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The Runaways

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on May 23, 2010


Dakota Fanning as a sex symbol, oh my!

I realize that with my addition of pictures within my reviews, I have gotten a bit more tongue-in-cheek for the last bunch. Part of that is because the pictures lend themselves to a comedic slant, and another part is because the films don’t play into a more serious sort of review. I don’t intend to have that attitude in all of my reviews, but I will try to work with pictures, regardless. People seem to enjoy how the visuals break up my long-winded reviews. Additionally, I am playing with themes to get the pictures to format properly, so bear with me and let me know what you think when you see a new theme pop up!

The Runaways is a film about the 1970s all-girl teen rock band of the same name, specifically about the inception of the band and its beginning years with its original members. It specifically focuses on the two leads of the band, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. While the film gives us a good understanding of Currie’s background, it leaves Jett’s story mostly in the dark, which I found somewhat odd as Jett was really the brains of the whole operation and the most musically successful member of the band. I knew who Joan Jett was before I walked into the theatre; I couldn’t tell you anything about Cherie Currie except that someone in the band was named “something like Cherry”. I really don’t want to get into specifics about the band history and all, because not only will I just be rewriting this biopic, but I’ll be constantly checking my information and this is not why I write film reviews! So, allow me to get into a little more of the nitty-gritty of the film, and please forgive me for not nitpicking some of the inaccuracies that it included (though I believe those were kept to a minimum since both Jett and Currie were involved in the making of the film).

The Runaways: Cherie at center, Jett at extreme right.

Casting was clearly a big part of this film’s success, in terms of properly portraying the story. I admit that I was a bit perplexed when the two lead parts were announced: Kristen Stewart, of Twilight ‘fame’ (or, as I consider it, infamy) as Joan Jett, and little Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam, War of the Worlds), looking not-so-little and innocent in this film, as Cherie Currie. I was particularly shocked by Fanning in this film because it’s so unlike anything I have ever seen from her, and I don’t mean that as a negative thing.

Never has she appeared so grown-up in a film.

Fanning looked significantly younger than Currie did, and in some ways that both worked for and against the film; Cherie Currie was 15 when she joined the band, making her jailbait innocence a big deal. The thing is that while Currie grew up during her few years in the band (and we all know that the differences from 15 through 18 can be significant) Fanning did not, making some of her later antics and increasingly overt sexuality even more unsettling in the film.

Fanning in Currie's signature white corset, performing 'Cherry Bomb'.

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett was an interesting choice, to me. I know that Jett has said that Stewart looked exactly like her, and I think she even felt that Stewart nailed the vocals (Stewart and Fanning sang the music we saw them performing), but I felt there was something lacking. Granted, I’m not a huge Joan Jett fan, but looking at her pictures and hearing her voice, I feel there was much more of a contrast to her than I got with Stewart. Stewart presented much more of a butch, tomboy kind of persona, while Jett, to me, feels more like ‘pretty meets gritty’, as Jonathan from Project Runway might say.

I get the hair, though it looks silly to me, but she doesn't capture the 'Jettiness' in my eyes.

Both actresses did a good job with their roles, though Fanning’s singing felt a bit awkward to me. I didn’t realize that her style was close to Currie’s, especially with the way she pronounced “mom” in ‘Cherry Bomb’, and yet she fell short in the music numbers. The rest of the cast was pretty adequate, though the only cast member of real consequence was the sleazy Kim Fowley, played perfectly creepily by Michael Shannon (Bug, an interesting William Friedkin psychological horror).

Look at that! Tell me that doesn't just ooze 'dodginess'.

The rest of the band members consisted of Stella Maeve (Transamerica) as Sandy West, Scout Taylor-Comptom (the new Halloween films, which means I already have a grudge against her) as Lita Ford, and Alia Shawkat (Whip It, Arrested Development) played the bafflingly mute ‘Robin’, who is not an actual member of the band but is a stand-in for bassists Jackie Fox and Vicki Blue. Seriously, what a waste for her. I was really disappointed by how they basically didn’t utilize Alia Shawkat at all. I guess that’s what happens when none of the band’s former bassists sign off on a film. As for the rest of the band members, the film paid meticulous attention to the Sandy West’s lesbianism and Lita Ford’s supreme bitchiness, though I understand that things were a bit more complicated with Ford than the film portrayed. Overall, the girls did a fine job at portraying a crazy, no-holds-barred all-girl teen rock band.

This may not be an actual still from the film, since I have no idea who the grizzly man is in the background.

Now that I’ve picked apart some of the general accuracy elements, I want to discuss a bit of the themes and tones of the film. Let me be frank: the film is desperate to be exude what the band wanted to be at the time, and desperate is the key word here. The girls faced a major challenge trying to sell their band as something legitimate and not just a group of brainless sex-object with no talent. While Kim Fowley was certainly a sleazeball, he did help push them to where they needed to go; however, the film insisted on repeatedly throwing these ‘you need to be grittier’ confrontations in the audience’s face, belabouring a point that the audience already understood.

I don't know when this took place in the film because we saw practically the exact same scene so many times.

Then there’s the sex and drugs… well, mostly the sex. Yes, it was the ’70s, and these girls were very young and engaging in that sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I get that, I really do.But the film was, at times, overly graphic with its handling of sexuality. I don’t mind graphic sex scenes, and I don’t mind ‘inappropriate’ sex scenes, either–as long as the scenes serve a purpose. The point of exhibiting such sexuality in the film was to show not only what the girls were experiencing at the time, but part of the energy fueling the group. Again, the audience understood all of this, but the film persisted with scene after scene that served only to be ‘shocking’ and even controversial rather than advance the story (and often failed at achieving either goal).

Though watching Stewart and Fanning make-out was certainly shocking AND crucial to the story.

Which brings me to the one responsible for constructing the film: writer and director Floria Sigismondi. The first thing I tell people when they ask me what I thought about the film is the following: it is ridiculously and absurdly over-directed. I am all for using close-ups and extreme close-ups to emphasize particular elements, and I can understand using these shots artfully, but they were just a nuisance in the film. They were overused, and simplistically, at that. We had spinning shots that amounted to nothing and lent absolutely no additional elements or context to the shot. We had all sorts of movements and so many unneeded shots that I got bored of simply watching the film. It was juvenile and poorly executed, and I was really rather stunned by the ‘I just got my hands on my first video camera and copy of Final Cut Pro’ feel that it had.

Filming a reflection in order to juxtapose two images is taught in Filmmaking 101.

In addition to that, there was a huge issue with the music editing. For a film that is so focused on music, the use of said music should be thoughtful and appropriate. We were treated to songs suddenly blaring at us and then abruptly cutting out, as well as songs appearing for mere seconds before the scene cut without allowing for any overlay. To put it simply, the music was not respected in the film, and that’s a sad thing when the film is all about music. There are better ways to weave together bits and pieces of songs, my friends. Empire Records is a perfect example of a film that artfully uses an extensive soundtrack, even though some songs are used ever so briefly.

Do I recommend this film? Eh, it’s a tough call. I think it’s worth watching if you’re a huge fan of the band or interested in this subject matter because it’s pretty interesting on that level. But if it really pains you to watch bad directing (and for those of you who say you never notice directing, this filmmaker MAKES you notice–trust me) then it might be worth skipping. I hear there’s a good documentary on the actual band, and this film is also based of Cherie Currie’s memoir, so perhaps one of those two things is more up your ally if you’re a real Runaways fan. Personally, I enjoyed watching much of the film, if not just for the interesting information it provided, but I had to control myself from audibly mocking it at the same time.


9 Responses to “The Runaways”

  1. Dimitri said

    Kristen Stewart does seem like an odd choice to play joan jett. from angsty teenager to wild(ish) rockstar?
    also that picture of the hairstyle on her is totally silly.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I felt like it looked unnatural on her as opposed to Joan Jett, but that’s Kristen’s real hair. I don’t know what the deal is for me, but the casting choice bugs me.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Twillness said

    Interesting. I had no idea that a band comprised of young girls existed back then. And I was sitting around thinking why the hell hasn’t anyone capitalized on this slant yet. I’ll prolly try and see this somehow, looks like it might be fun. Love a good biopic.

    And jesus fuck, Fanning isn’t a toddler anymore. I’m honestly shocked.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Yeah, I was shocked about their age, too. The guy Kim Fowley was blamed for basically destroying these girls in a number of ways, what with his encouragement of the sex and drugs. He was way sleazy.

      Just be aware that the directing and the music editing are not so great. That’s my only warning, really. Otherwise, it can be an interesting watch, for sure, though the real documentary might do more for you if you are really interested in the band and what happened.

      I know, Dakota Fanning is turning into a young adult. It’s terrifying in some ways, but I still really like her. And kudos to her for taking roles that shake up her ‘innocent poster child’ image.

      Thanks for the comment! Come back and let me know what you think about the film after you watch it :D!

      • Twillness said

        Yeah, I watched the docu, Edgeplay. Those girls definitely went through hell, and Fowley really is a piece of shit. I’m surprised they’re not all strung out on some sort of drug or dead. I’ll definitely be seeing the movie now, hopefully I’ll be able to see it in theaters.

    • That girl that you know said

      If you are at all interesting in the documentary, it is on Netflix Instant and was actually done by one of the band members.


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