Archive for March, 2010

RUNAWAYS

Posted in things you should know on March 19, 2010 by wfon

Floria Sigismondi’s take on the original GRRL group, the Runaways, is a hybrid of teen girl angst, rock and roll rebellion and the rise, fall and redemption of a rock band. Before this film got off the ground, and with the high-watt star power of Kristen Stewart (thanks to Twilight) getting people interested in the story and the band, the Runaways probably weren’t very well known… certainly not to fifteen year old girls today… but without the Runaways it’s fair to say we would never have seen the likes of the Go-Go’s, the Bangles, Vixen, Girlschool and a host of other all-girl rock and roll bands. Girls who played their instruments and wrote their own songs. As the guitar teacher early in the film says, “Girls don’t play electric guitar!”  Don’t forget, also, that the Runaways gave us Lita Ford (doesn’t everyone love the duet with Ozzy “If I Close My Eyes Forever?”) and, far more importantly, Joan Jett – a true rock and roll star. Sure there was a svengali in the form of Kim Fowley, the guy who made Joan’s dream a reality but, frankly, every story like this has one: there is always an opportunist (Fowley), there is always a visionary (Jett) and there is always a star (Cherie Currie) and, more often than not, that star is such because of their innate dysfunction and pain. This is the story of the Runaways.

The performances of Kristen Stewart (no doubt my favorite of the current crop of young ingenues) and Dakota Fanning anchor the film and keep it from succumbing to its weaknesses. Michael Shannon plays Fowley extravangantly and over-the-top in a good way. He also keeps the film afloat. The tour scenes feel a lot like Almost Famous and the drug-fueled sequences reference The Doors, which is okay, but the film (and it’s obvious low budget) feels very grounded in a Hollywood re-imagining of the mid-seventies. A tour of Japan is a few cars driving around the lower level streets in downtown LA. So it never really rises to the level of the aforementioned films it feels akin to. Hard to do, granted, with limited funds.

Using Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel to lay the groundwork for the story also seems a little odd since Joan Jett is an executive producer on the film and there is no doubt the Runaways is her story. However, since the dramatic tension hinges mostly on Currie, her at-home family dynamic and eventual spiral into drug use, it makes sense that Sigismondi used the book as source material. I’ve read reviews of the film that suggest it plays things safe and I’m not sure about that: Dakota Fanning is pushed to the limit of teen porn provocation (especially since she was 15 when the film was shot) and the romantic encounters between she and Kristen Stewart are, sorry for the pun, titillating and sweet – played real but not to make too fine a point. Is it Sid and Nancy? No. But the story doesn’t tread the same sort of hopeless despairing waters of the Sex Pistols story. The girls in the Runaways were Valley girls, squeaky clean for the most part, who threw in the towel (in the case of Currie) when the reality of it all was just too much. She did what teenage girls do… she ran away.

And why do we still know Joan Jett? All these years later, why is she even more of an icon then when she first strutted out on her own? Because she was the one with the dream and she never gave up on it. I’ve always liked Joan Jett but after getting this glimpse into her background I’m even more of a fan.

Also worthy of mentioning are the incredible re-recordings that Kristen and Dakota did in making the Runaways songs their own, as the roles required. Both sound so close to their real-life counterparts that it’s scary and seeing 15-year-old Dakota growl the “hello dad, hello mom, I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb” lyric nails the feeling of how groundbreaking and rule-breaking the Runaways were in their time. Go see it!