'The Runaways': Story of a rock 'n' roll breakdown
A review of "The Runaways," a movie based on the experiences of the 1970s rock band that spawned Joan Jett.
Seattle Times movie critic
'The Runaways,' with Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Scout Taylor Compton, Stella Maeve, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Tatum O'Neal. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, based on the memoir "Neon Angel" by Cherie Currie. 102 minutes. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content — all involving teens. Several theaters.
Floria Sigismondi's "The Runaways," based on a true story, concerns itself less with a rock band's rise and fall than with the tale of one young woman's breakdown. Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a 15-year-old with a troubled family and a mesmerizing ability to lose herself in a song, meets a few people at a club one night and suddenly finds herself a rock star. As lead singer of the Runaways, a 1970s band made up entirely of teenage girls, she goes on to experience international stardom but, as the movie tells it, quickly lost herself in drugs, ending up in rehab as her bandmate Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) found solo stardom.
Told with a jolting, lurid energy, "The Runaways" feels oddly off-balance. Fanning, who's long had an eerie quality in movies (she always seems more in-focus than anyone else on screen), here throws herself into her role, letting us see how Cherie enjoys the sexual power of strutting around a stage in a corset, how guilty she feels about leaving her sister (Riley Keough) behind to cope with their father, how she finds the real world frightening and small. Out pour her issues, all over the movie, as Stewart strums an electric guitar somewhere else in the shot. We learn next to nothing about Jett except that she's a tough gal who loves to rock 'n' roll, and Stewart plays her as a deep-voiced enigma. Why did the one emerge as a star, and the other dissolve under the bright lights? (The real Jett, it's worth noting, is an executive producer of the film.)
Sigismondi doesn't seem particularly interested in answering that question (and even less interested in the remaining Runaways, who are basically walk-ons); instead, she's busily capturing the feel of an era, often vividly: the glitter platforms; the feathered hair; the low-ceilinged, shag-carpeted basements; the men (particularly the group's manager, a creepy Svengali played with flair by Michael Shannon) all trying to look like Bowie. Though "The Runaways" ends with a celebration of Jett's smash hit "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," it's ultimately a grim experience. "The Runaways were a conceptual rock project that failed," says their manager, on to the next big thing; Fanning, eloquently, shows us the roadkill.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725
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