Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways, 2010

Movie poster courtesy of Apparition
In 1975, Joan Jett formed an all-girl rock band, the Runaways, in Hollywood, California and the band’s brief three year run influenced later generations of rock and roll musicians and paved the way for women in rock.  Floria Sigismondi’s film, The Runaways, chronicles the story of the major players in the band’s original line-up: Joan Jett, played by Kristen Stewart, and Cheri Currie, played by Dakota Fanning.

Original band mates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie were actively involved in making the film. In fact, the film is based on Currie’s memoir recounting of her life with the band:  Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway.  Joan Jett served as a producer of the film along with  Bill Pohlad, Art and John Linson, and Kenny Laguna.  Floria Sigismondi wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

The film opens with Joan Jett and her pursuit to play electric guitar “in a man’s world of music” and her meeting Kim Fowley, the infamous record producer, who would navigate the Runaways into fame and rock and roll history.  Early in the film, we see how Jett and Fowley recruited the very young Cheri Currie to front the band.  The band quickly rises to fame and the film follows the shooting-star projection of a limited run in the flashy chaotic lifestyle of rock and roll fame.

Kristen Stewart, of the Twilight franchise fame, is cast as Joan Jett, who would later front the band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.  Stewart does a fine turn as Jett.  Dakota Fanning is cast as Cheri Currie, the original singer for the Runaways, in a gritty and very grown-up performance when contrasted to what we’ve seen Fanning in before.  Michael Shannon is cast as the extraordinarily creepy Kim Fowley and makes us fear for the well-being of all young women everywhere.  If you can get over how truly creepy his character is, Shannon’s performance is fun to watch.

Tatum O’Neal does a surprising turn as Cheri Currie’s mother—so surprising that she escaped my notice on my first viewing and I watched the film a second time just to catch O’Neal in her role.

The film is difficult to watch, probably due to the exposure of the very young women to the rock and roll lifestyle. Cheri Currie was only fifteen years old when recruited for the band.  I repeat, she was fifteen years old and toured the USA and Japan in a rock band.  The film accurately captures the mood of the pre-punk rock days in the 1970s and the dark, risqué nightclubs the girls frequented.  It’s also difficult to watch the characters using drugs at such a young age.

The film is a rock and roll drama, but interestingly, music isn’t featured as much as one would expect.  Both Stewart and Fanning performed music for the film but the soundtrack also features tracks from the actual Runaways as well as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.  The film focuses on the relationship that develops between Joan Jett and Cherie Currie.

I was interested in seeing the film because, although I missed the Runaways as a fan (I was still too young in their 1970s hey-day), I did grow up watching Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Lita Ford on MTV.  Seeing the film has inspired my interest in the Runaways as a band and in Ms. Currie’s book, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway.

The film has been criticized for an underwritten script and a focus on Currie rather than Jett and you can’t help but feel that a sharper focus on Jett may have put the sparkle on the film that it seems to be missing.

I recommend the film if you’re a fan of the actresses, the band, or the history of rock and roll--but be warned: it’s a gritty, dirty, uncomfortable ride!

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