Tuesday, March 23, 2010


By: The Mad Hatter

There's nothing that brings this music geek more joy than discovering new music. Be it a smaller act that hasn't broken big yet or a bygone band that I wasn't into before, there's little in the world that can beat a cache of new tracks I can play to death for a week or three. So in that respect, I’m thankful to this film for introducing me to the music of The Runaways. But while this music geek is satisfied, this movie geek is amazingly dissatisfied. Perhaps it's because after thirteen dollars and just shy of two hours, I still don't feel like I know the members of The Runaways.

The story begins in the summer of 1975 when we're introduced to sixteen year old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Cherie lives for glam rock, has a loving sister, and seems to spend most days wanting to break the shit cycle her life has become. At the same time, we meet young Joan Larkin (Kristen Stewart), or Joan Jett as she prefers to be called. In a time where the boys are dressing like girls, Joan wants to dress like a boy. Not only does she want to dress like a boy, she wants to play electric guitar like a boy.

Joan spends many nights at Rodney's English Disco, a club in L.A. that features bands like David Bowie and The Stooges. It's here that she sees music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) and talks him into forming an all-girl rock band. Fowley likes the idea—believing there's money to be made—and sets out with Jett to fill in the ranks. Topping the list is the need for a lead singer, a role that blonde bit of jailbait named Currie just might be able to fill.

I wanted to like THE RUNAWAYS, I really did. But wowsers, what a mess.

The film has a few good qualities to it, not the least of which are the two lead actresses, which save it from being a complete failure. As Cherie Curie, Dakota Fanning successfully makes the jump to an adult acting career. Every moment she is behind a microphone, she cuts the audience with a vicious charisma that a child actor isn't capable of.

Equally impressive is Kristen Stewart. Admittedly, I came into the movie ready to rip the once-and-future Bella to bits . . . but I can't. She has done her homework and does indeed bring much of Joan Jett's swagger and sneer to her performance in THE RUNAWAYS. If I have any knock against Kristen Stewart, it's that she isn't quite given enough to do.

Beyond the leading ladies and an appropriately killer soundtrack, the film is damn near forgettable. It focuses more on the story of Cherie Currie than any of the other four young ladies, which would be fine if it didn't treat her story like so many other junkie cautionary tales I've already seen. Besides the fact that I didn't get to know any member of the band not named Joan or Cherie, the story of their success felt to me like it was over before it began. I mean one scene they're playing a club in the American midwest, and the next scene they're packing for Japan. Shouldn't there have been a night or two at The Whiskey in between those two career steps?

While director Floria Sigismondi has given certain moments an edgy visual flare, especially a kick ass sequence of the band performing "Hollywood," her pacing feels like a six year-old telling you what they did in school that day. The film includes some truly abrasive editing and pulls the impressive trick of both luring you into what is actually “The Cherie Curie Story” yet still telling you very little about her. The movie has so many moments where it feels like it could be an indie film touchstone of rock & roll, but instead of getting on stage and slaying the crowd, it pisses its pants, and runs out the side door.

I'll spot THE RUNAWAYS one point on the scoreboard: it did set me directly on a mission to get music by the titular band on to my iPod. But besides that token gesture of pointing me towards a musical blind spot, I'm left feeling ripped off and wondering what might have been.

-The Mad Hatter

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