Film Review: The Runaways

Cherie Currie was once described as “the lost daughter of Iggy Pop and Brigitte Bardot” – and that’s exactly the depiction she gets from one Dakota Fanning in band biopic, The Runaways.

Joined by Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, the pair take a tour of the rock and roll lifestyle (and Japan…), as they are propelled to stardom by producer Kim Fowley, played by Michael Shannon. Their story starts in Southern California, where Jett, sporting a fairly awful mullet, is firmly told by her guitar teacher that “girls don’t play electric guitar”. Currie, on the other hand, has taken to painting her face in the style of David Bowie and swearing on stage at her school talent contest.

Presumably this would have gone on for a few years until they both grew out of it, if it hadn’t been for Jett’s chance encounter with music mogul Fowley. He introduces her to drummer Sandy West (played by Stella Maeve), and then helps in the formation of the all-girl rock band The Runaways, with cherry-bomb-Currie as the lead singer.

From then on it is, quite simply, Dakota and Stewart as you’ve never seen them before. The band go on an all out guitar-throwing, lesbian-kissing, pill-popping rampage – and if you’ve seen any music-based biopic you’ll probably know how it ends. So far, nothing surprising, right? Well, actually, no. If you’re looking for this film’s most shocking moments, you won’t find them in the cocaine-snorting in the aeroplane bathroom, or in Cherrie’s decision to wearing provocative underwear as her stage clothes. It’s the moments of innocence that take you surprise, such as scene where a bare-faced Currie jumps on her bed in delight at being signed by Mercury Records, reminding you that she is, in fact, just fifteen years of age.

Much acclaim should be given to Shannon for his performance as Fowley, their borderline psychotic record producer who appears to revel in the sex-appeal of these underage starlets. His portrayal certainly goes some way to supporting accusations that the girls were subjected to significant verbal abuse at the hands of their management throughout their time as a band.

They were the self-proclaimed Queens of Noise, and so, who better to direct this screaming biopic of a film than music video director Floria Sigismondi. Her trademark disorientating shots do well at capturing the adrenaline of The Runaways live performances, as well as the breakdown of the relationships between the various band members.

The screenplay for the film was based on Currie’s book, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, and, as with most adaptations, it occasionally feels as if details are often glossed over in favour of keeping up the pace. The sudden flashing of raw tattoos and the brief encounters with live-in roadies suggest that this film has left much untold.

But what The Runaways does do is provide some context for these guitar-wielding tough girls. Their troubled home lives and battles with addiction may not provide much in terms of scandal or suspense, but it certainly goes some way to humanising these sexed-up adolescent rock chicks, who vanished from the music scene almost as quickly as they appeared.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Film Review: The Runaways, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating