Welcome Guest | Register | Login

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart get down and dirty in The Runaways


Most of the buzz about The Runaways  is true. Yes, Kristen Stewart  ditches the tweeny Twilight persona, goes gay, and says f**k at least twenty times. Yes, the innocent Dakota Fanning plays a pill popping drug addict. However, that controversy aside, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in "The Runaways."The Runaways is a perfectly entertaining, if hollow, saga of making and breaking the band.

For those who are already questioning the existence of The Runaways, there’s obviously a reason for that. The movie chronicles the creation and fallout of what was ultimately deemed a failed experiment in teen rock and roll. As the movie (sometimes indulgently) notes, some said the band would rival The Beatles at the time.

The film opens in the 70’s where change was rampant and female power was starting to really materialize. Joan Jett  (Kristen Stewart) develops a wild idea to have an exclusive all girl rock band, no boys allowed. This catches the eye of the eccentric Kim Fowley  (Michael Shannon), who bumps into Jett one night outside a swanky club in LA. He instructs her to get the band together, play some music, and then see if it moves him. When Fowley realizes their sound is like nothing on the radio at the time, he throws The Runaways on the fast track.

However, something is still lacking with the group, the kind of fiery, scandalous presence that will turn boys heads and offer plenty to talk about. That controversial player is found in Cherie Currie  (Dakota Fanning) a naive, 15 year old girl who lives with an absent mother and alcoholic father. Fowley deems her pure “jail bait”, and makes her the centerpiece of the band, noted in their most popular song “Cherry Bomb”, which was tailored for Currie.

Everything starts out peachy at first of course. There’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll for the hormone laden girl rockers. Jett and Currie develop an intimate friendship on the road, bonded by their broken families and of course drugs of every way, shape, and form. As the popularity of the band spikes, the sparring starts, mostly aimed at Currie, who get’s more attention than any other band member. Fearing that she will remove the focus on them as a group, major turbulence erupts. This is personified by Currie’s growing addiction problem, which clearly starts to spiral out of control.

The Runaways will be remembered for two amazing performances. Those belong to Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. Stewart, equipped with raggedy black hair and hard ass persona, expertly channels a young Joan Jett, and perfectly embodies the sense of discovery and frustration that lines the passage into adulthood. Fanning is alternately heartbreaking. True, it’s hard to watch this 16 year old actress crush a pill with her five inch stiletto then snort it off the floor. However, it’s a pretty brave and marked performance. Lurid moments aside, Fanning gives major levity and depth to the cliché teen star ruined by drugs and alcohol.

The movie’s very weak link is the dramatic weight of it all. The Runaways carries little to no depth without Stewart and Fanning bulking it up. It’s a perfectly entertaining, sometimes funny, experience, but it can also be irritatingly skin deep and superficial. The film also hits major roadblocks in the third act, unsure of how to close out the story and tie it all together effectively.

In the end what’s most interesting about The Runaways isn’t in the conventional framework of the story. That tale has been told a thousand times before, and been the topic of VH1 Behind The Music for years. No, the appeal is in the fact that this group never even made it at all, much less had a rise and fall. They were the greatest band that never even was, and there is something heartbreaking about a group with so much potential that never really got their chance. The film closes on an uplifting note (as we all know, Jett went on to be a star), but the endeavor remains a bittersweet pill.

The Runaways is a somewhat disposable rock biopic, but there’s enough here to warrant a recommendation.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com