Before we get into the subject of this review, let me point out that there is a very good and informative movie about that band out there called Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways made by one of their later band members that tells things from a certain point of view. Namely, not Joan's.
Considering the fact that Joan Jett and her musical podnuh Kenny Laguna, served as the two Executive Producers of this film (among nine total producers), one might think that this was Joan Jett's side of the story. Although she is one of the more prominently featured characters, this isn't so much the case.
Instead The Runaways is a bit of a biopic, a bit of a coming-of-age film and a bit of that standardized rock and roll rags to riches (or, at least, torn jeans to reasonable success) story that we've seen many times. Is it good? Yeah, it's good and lots of fun. Is it groundbreaking, flawless and stunning? Well, no, not quite!
Based on the book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway by lead vocalist Cherie Currie, The Runaways focuses most of its attention on the character of Cherie (as played by Dakota Fanning) and her wild-ass bandmate Joan Jett (as brought to us by Kristen Stewart) as they rise to prominence and fall in a drug-induced haze!
Good move? Good move. Unless you're the rest of the band, who gets the super-short strap in this flick. From drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) who just sort of appears to lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) who just seems to show up to bitch about everything like an angry-ass Lita-Come-Lately to bassist Jackie Fox who... um... wait a minute... Jackie's not even IN this movie because she wouldn't allow her name or story to be told (she's traded her Bass in for a Law Degree, you know). Instead we get fictional bassist Robin Robbins (Alia Shawkat) slapping the four string to keep Jackie from slapping more injunctions all over this flick.
The story kicks into rockin' gear when Joanie's youthful indiscretions cause her to cross paths with record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) who, almost without having to be convinced one Iota (hey, what the fuck is an "iota" anyway?) to help her assemble a band full of awesome ROCKIN' chicks who can wail and make rip-roaring music history.
Wow... that was easy. It didn't even take any... iotas.
Moving on! The story consists primarily of Cherie Currie's evolution from wannabe female David Bowie to singing ringer in a band starting out to a sexy superstar to... well, who knows? Watch the movie! Along the way she leaves behind her troubled family like twin sister Marie Currie (Riley Keough) and her absentee mom played by, no shit, Tatum O'Neal.
Of course, the real focus is on her new family, the Runaways, who prove to be just as dysfunctional... if not more! But these are the scenes that are the best. Seeing how incredibly well these actresses, especially leads Stewart and Fanning channel their musical counterparts is striking. However, hearing them is amazing. There are times that Stewart looks and sounds so much like Joan Jett we could believe it's her. Fanning similarly sheds her familiar past roles and becomes the Cherie-Bomb through and through. They're sexy and wild... and unapologetic in their portrayals of their characters from the sex to the drugs to the rock and roll and beyond. The acting isn't the problem here.
A good bit of the problem seems to be within the writing of this film. The dialogue is fine and the story flows in a smart way most of the time, however writer/ director Floria Sigismondi condenses things in some clumsy ways. Difficult situations are revealed and resolved with a couple of lines, which is hardly realistic, even in the context of a biopic like this (one can't fit everything into 109 minutes). Further, be it due to legal pressure, attention to the source material or executive producer choices, virtually every character except Cherie and Joan feel just a bit underdeveloped and, in some cases, positively thin.
Had the plot been less condensed (or condensed in a more realistic way), and the characters much more fleshed out we might have had a much better and much more representative detail of The Runaways. Considering the "Where Are They Now" pre-credit title cards only covered Cherie, Joan and Kim out of the entire ensemble cast of this ensemble band (only one lineup of which was actually represented here), it's clear that there is a bit of an imbalance in this version of the story.
Still, it is a good film to watch, imperfect, but lots of fun and with some great music and unflinching representations of sex (straight and lesbian), drugs and Rock and Roll... and with some good and convincing thespians to pull the whole thing off. And that's why The Runaways rocks its way to Three and One Half Stars out of Five! If you Love Rock and Roll or you're feeling explosive like a Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-CHERRY BOMB, check this film out... just don't expect... the rest of the story. I love you! Good night!
Hey, Neon Angel!
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