Title: The Runaways
Directed By: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Tatum O’Neal
In the words of Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), “It’s press, not prestige. Get used to it.” Those words are directed to the members of his band in The Runaways, but they’re easily applicable to the film as well. The Runaways is certainly not prestigious, but it knows it and uses its flaws to provide the film with a fantastic degree of authenticity. Just because you don’t abide by the standards of perfection, doesn’t mean you can succeed. One of the best examples of the beautifully flawed is The Runaways and its film counterpart follows suit.
Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning star as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie respectively. The film begins with the young rebellious duo as mere nobodies. Jett is hanging out at clubs and terrorizing guitar teachers who doubt a girl’s ability to rock the electric guitar while Currie’s expressing her love for David Bowie at a school talent show to an intensely disapproving crowd. But all of that changes when Jett meets the influential and eccentric music producer, Kim Fowley, and he becomes determined to bring the world something it’s never seen before, an all girl rock band.
Jett leads The Runaways, which includes Sandy West (Stella Maeve), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Robin Robins (Alia Shawkat). The only piece missing is the group’s lead singer. While prowling for potentials, Kim spots Currie and offers her a trial run. Currie shows up at the group’s next rehearsal and so “Cherry Bomb” is born. A seemingly impossible dream to break the male-centric mold turns into a reality but eventually spirals out of control and deep into the vices of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
Back in the 70s, The Runaways were designed to entertain. Roughly 40 years later, The Runaways does the same. Just as the world was swept away by the edgy Joan Jett and the super sexy Cherie Currie, so will moviegoers when Stewart and Fanning assume the roles. It’s no surprise that Stewart has a knack for playing frustrated and rebellious, but she manages to spice up her performance with hints of unrestrained glee. She steadily rides Jett’s emotional rollercoaster from unacceptable mediocrity to fame beyond her belief and back down into the depths of failure.
But even though The Runaways is being marketed as Stewart’s film and Jett’s personal story, it’s ultimately Fanning and Currie’s production. She has the most screen time, but doesn’t fully take advantage of it. She never quite gets there in terms of shedding her own star status and adopting Currie’s. However, excellent costume selections give her the extra nudge needed to blend in quite well. Her facial expressions are often void of emotion, but that eventually works as her character becomes consumed by drugs and a bloated ego. Her downplaying is particularly appreciated during scenes shared with Shannon. Fowley is so over the top, foul-mouthed and downright obnoxious that if any other character strove for even the slightest bit of his spotlight, it would be overwhelming.
On the other hand, the involvement of the other band members is the complete opposite, underwhelming. Yes, the film would have been far too lengthy had their stories been included in a viable manner, but a little extra screen time is necessary. The film provides a substantial understanding of how the rise and fall of the group affected Currie and Jett, but the rest is left almost entirely to the imagination. Taylor-Compton is awarded a moment to shine, but botches it with a hefty dose of overacting. Maeve manages to make somewhat of an impact with her minimalistic role, but poor Shawkat was given nothing to work with – almost literally.
However, as a film about Currie and Jett, The Runaways is a success. The story is compelling and the sentiments further amplified by a powerful soundtrack and musical performances. Director Floria Sigismondi combines the cast and crew’s best assets creating a piece that’s forceful and enjoyable. But, like the subject matter, the film has its flaws. On the other hand, like the subject matter, the flaws wind up making it unique and particularly impactful.
By Perri Nemiroff