Detailing the ups and downs during the brief success of an all-girl rock band in the 1970s, The Runaways offers a look into the ambition, hardships and volatility of being a female rocker in time when men ruled the stage.
The movie zooms in on the behind-the-scenes drama that both propelled and destroyed the band's short-lived celebrity. Pair lead singer Cherie Currie's (Dakota Fanning) broken home upbringing with Joan Jett's (Kristen Stewart) tough-as-leather demeanor, add three precocious California girls - Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), Sandy West (Stella Maeve), and Jackie Fox (who did not lend her name to the script, but who Alia Shawkat's character is based on) - and sprinkle it with a dose of overbearing crazy from their over-the-top manager, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) and what do we get? A pack of eager, under-aged, parentless vixens out to devour fame, experiment with drugs and alcohol, blur the lines of sexuality, and bask in warmth of their rise to the top. And for a while, the girls succeed in their dream of being the first alleged all-girl rock band - garnering press, fans, and record deals and following in the footsteps of their idols. But excess and greed prove to be the accelerants for their cherry bomb as fighting, drug abuse, and exploitive tactics from their manager eventually result in The Runaways' fall from rock and roll grace. Based on the book by Currie, the movie (produced by Jett and directed by Floria Sigismondi) is a history-rich, fast-paced glimpse into the lives of the women that paved the way for future female rockers.
What really impressed me with The Runaways was the caliber of acting delivered by Stewart and Fanning. I was completely surprised, pleased, and impressed by the head-to-toe transformations that they underwent to secure the essence of the legends they were portraying. If you're a Twilight fan going to see The Runaways because you're hoping to get a little chin-quivering, sulky, I'm-in-love-with-a-vampire blues to hold you over until Eclipse comes out, don't bother. Stewart defies any misconceptions that her talent is only Bella-deep. From the chopped hair, leather-clad ensembles, and tomboy swagger, to the signature Jett hunch while playing guitar, Stewart commands the role, makes it her own, and effectively relays the iconic presence of the real Joan Jett. The same goes for Fanning, who reverently shocked me with her acting in the film. Long gone are the days of Uptown Girls or being carried around in the arms of Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. Fanning delves into her character's abyss of drug addiction, childhood demons and desire for attention with believable breakdowns, uncanny Currie stage-strutting, and even (like Stewart) lends her vocals to the movie's soundtrack. This film is the perfect outlet for Stewart and Fanning to showcase their acting ability and demand recognition as coming-of-age actresses of their generation.
Acting aside, the movie supplied all of the sensory highs that the '70s so lavishly bestowed. Each backdrop of the film was abundantly decked in retro swank, each actor authentically adorned in dated getups, and the soundtrack offers tracks from the decade's hottest stars. Scene upon scene dealt shiny jumpsuits, leather jackets, staggering platforms, wide-leg jeans, and copious amounts of eye makeup. From the sets filled with mid-century modern interior design, to background music from The Stooges, Suzi Quatro, and David Bowie, the movie exudes authenticity and adequately captures the essence of that time period, almost making it a character all on its own.
My only problem with the film lies in how fast the band's decline occurred. The Runaways rocked the world for just a brief time, yes, but trying to fit that in an even shorter frame (105 minutes) makes for a storyline that seems a bit rushed. In real life, the Runaways were able to cut several albums, but the film made it seem like they barely got one out. Also, being a big fan of Alia Shawkat's acting, I wished she had been given more than just one or two lines. And at the end of the film, the audience is supplied with a "where are they now" epilogue of sorts, as a few paragraphs of text are shared about the lives of Jett, Currie, and Fowley post-Runaways. I was left wondering about the other band mates as well, especially since Lita Ford went on to do many things, just like Jett, and deserved recognition.
Between its honest portrayal of the film's characters and a killer soundtrack, The Runaways is an enjoyable exploration of the different sides of rock and roll that have never been given much air time. Accompanied by eccentric fashion, rock star debauchery and even (spoiler!) a Stewart-Fanning onscreen kiss, this movie is definitely a must-see this spring.
Check out the original band members in this video montage of "Gettin' Hot," one of my favorite Runaways songs. Then, do a little compare-and-contrast with the movie's official video release of "Cherry Bomb," with vocals from Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.