If you ask people about the 1970s girl band The Runaways, you might get a few lines from their hit “Cherry Bomb” or a Joan Jett reference, but chances are, most people these days don’t know them too well. They will, namely because of Floria Sigismondi’s new film starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, also titled “The Runaways.”
“The Runaways” tells the story of five girls trying to make it big in the male-dominated world of 70s rock. They fall under the tutelage of Kim Fowler (played extremely well by Michael Shannon), who not only gathers the girls together, but becomes the band’s manager and producer.
Under Fowler, the band is formed, with Joan Jett on rhythm guitar, Cherie Currie as lead vocalist, Sandy West on drums, Lita Ford as lead guitarist, and Robin, the bassist. Robin represented Jackie Fox, who did not want to be seen in the movie adaptation of the band’s lives.
Sigismondi really plunged the audience into the 70s underground world of grunge during some of the scenes with Fowler and the girls practicing. For instance, Fowler had to teach the girls to toughen up. This was necessary after Currie, played by not-so-nice girl Dakota Fanning, brought in a slow love song to sing in their first practice. Viewers may find it amusing to see young kids (bribed by the manager) at practices heckling the girls. To even more laughter, Jett seems to be thrilled when she finds she can hit trash chucked on stage with her guitar, swinging like a baseball player.
What is very clear, though, is that the laughs are few and far between in “The Runaways.” The audience must watch as Currie goes from being a good girl from a broken home to becoming a full-on drug addict. Though she’s clearly portrayed as the worst of the lot, the whole group experiments with drugs and sex. It also features some lesbian scenes between Jett and Currie. It’s almost surprising to see the transformation of Dakota Fanning from the ultimate cute, good girl to Currie, a bombshell and addict. The star, known for playing sweethearts in “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Secret Life of Bees,” however, seems like a natural in “The Runaways.”
Kristen Stewart, however, steals the show. Known around the world for her portrayal of “Bella” in “Twilight,” many people put her in the waif category, as her most well-known character is a lovesick, obsessed teenager. In “The Runaways,” though, Stewart really proves her talent. She is Joan Jett, no question about it. There is the fact they bear a striking resemblance, but her mannerisms and harsh, aggressive attitude mimic the real-life 70s rocker, who had no use for boys.
There’s almost no concrete plot line to the film, other than to show the band’s formation and ultimate demise and how they handled everything thrown at them in between – be it fame, sex or drugs. Interestingly, though, it’s not boring. From Currie’s first performance lip-synching David Bowie to Jett’s aggressive meeting with Fowler, the audience won’t be able to look away.
The film hits its peak, though, when the girls go on their first tour. It may be worth it only to watch how their fame made them nearly as popular as The Beatles in Japan. This culminates in the scene where they perform “Cherry Bomb,” sung well by Fanning. It’s nearly impossible to tell which songs on the soundtrack to “The Runaways” were sung by Fanning and Stewart apart from the Currie and Jett hits.
The only real downfall to the movie is the fact that other actresses playing band members, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton and Alia Shawkat, did not get a chance to shine. “The Runaways” was almost entirely about the path Currie and Jett took, which makes sense, given their relationship and the fact that Jett was an executive producer of the film. The basic story of the tough all-girl band was told pretty quickly and wrapped up even faster. “The Runaways,” though, is the type of movie which will probably inspire girls and maybe even guys to research further the past of the band. This movie will probably give The Runaways a few more fans, at least.
Chances are many girls around the country will see “The Runaways” purely because the “Twilight” star is a lead. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking to assume they’ll be exposed to more culture after seeing the story of this epic band. But, as The Runaways paved the way for girl bands today, perhaps Sigismondi’s film will be an inspiration for girls in the future.