Monday 27 December 2010

Movie Review: The Runaways (2010)

The story of two girls from the wrong side of the tracks who briefly made it to the top of the music mountain, The Runaways is a wistful look back at a groundbreaking band that paved the way for a new era of women in rock.

Directed and written by Floria Sigismondi, based on the book Neon Angel: A Memoir Of a Runaway by Cherie Currie, The Runaways places the focus on guitarist Joan Jett and vocalist Currie, and does not shy away from the dysfunctional family origins, destructive drugs and sheer naivete that conspired to destroy the band.

It's 1975 in Los Angeles and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) has an unladylike ambition to play the electric guitar in an all-girl rock band.  She meets producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who connects her with drummer Sandy West.  Fowley then goes looking for a lead singer, and finds 15 year old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) hanging out at a club.  The group eventually includes lead guitarist Lita Ford, and are named The Runaways. Fowley helps to tutor them and co-writes their hit song Cherry Bomb.

Fronted by the dangerously under-aged sex-appeal of Currie and anchored by Jett's drive, The Runaways enjoy a meteoric rise, international success, and with drugs and jealousies taking their toll, a descent to destruction that is just as spectacular and rapid.  The band dissolved in 1979, having enjoyed success for all of three years between 1976 and 1978.

Dakota Fanning, just 15 herself when The Runaways was filmed, and Kristen Stewart, taking a welcome break from the vampires and werewolves of the Twilight series, produce impressive performances that mix equal doses of toughness, uncertainty and vulnerability. Fanning portrays Currie as fighting a losing battle to survive while out of her depth in a hostile environment that she knows little about, but also desperate to escape her depressing home, with an alcoholic father and a mother who has abandoned the family. Stewart captures the steely-eyed Jett, older than Currie, better equipped to deal with stardom and more success-oriented. Jett went on to independently achieve massive success as a solo artist.

Michael Shannon is also memorable as the conniving Fowley, a key contributor to both the creation and destruction of the band.

Sigismondi allows Fanning and Stewart to shine, and keeps her cameras tilted at interesting angles to match the soundtrack of rock music, and the energy of a group of young women attempting to take over the rock world.  And ever so briefly, they succeeded.

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