The Runaways (2010)

9 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Runaways” is a biopic about the all-girl rock band started by Joan Jett, whom we know as the punk rock female singer from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts mainly. For those who have little to no knowledge of The Runaways, her start in the music business, “The Runaways” tells that story with its own touches. The result is a good biopic—not a great biopic. It is well-made but standard in its storytelling. What makes it special—in fact, what makes most biopics special—are the performances from the actors who portray the historical figures the movie bases them on.

The movie opens as a young woman—guitarist Joan Jett, played by Kristen Stewart—and her friend—drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve)—approach a music agent named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Joan tells Kim that she wants him to manage an all-girl rock band with her as the lead guitarist. Kim hears them play and believes they have potential, so he tells them to be tougher and more energetic in their music performances. He brings The Runaways together and helps bring along the rest of the group—including guitarist Lila Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), bassist Robin (Alia Shawkat, the rebellious teenage girl in “Arrested Development”), and fifteen-year-old singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). They are young and ready to rock. But Kim knows getting them known to the public isn’t going to be easy, so he continues to push them harder during practice.

Cherie Currie could be considered the main protagonist of the story. We see her living with her sister and mother (a wannabe actress who always shouts “Places everyone” when getting her daughters’ attention) in a rural home. In an opening scene, Cherie dons a lot of makeup and lip-synchs David Bowie in a talent show, where she is booed off the stage.

What’s most fun about “The Runaways” is the creation of The Runaways’ popular songs such as “Cherry Bomb.” The music is one of the best things in the movie. When the band is on the stage, “The Runaways” rocks along with it. But that’s not the only thing that gives it its strength. Performances from the lead actors make this worth watching. Kristen Stewart is excellent as Joan Jett, with the short brunette hair and attitude that mixes asking for trouble with sincerity. Dakota Fanning is very good as Cherie Currie—I think this is her first role in which she doesn’t play a little girl, but a young woman. The scene-stealer here is Michael Shannon—his character of Kim is a creep and proud of it. He is not likable but he seems very real. What didn’t quite work was some of the elements in the storytelling, such as the relationship between Joan and Cherie. Also, the melodrama in which Cherie’s family misses her is a bit uneven, though Cherie’s relationship with her sister is pleasant enough. Maybe a few scenes with Joan Jett’s home life would’ve made the movie earn a three-and-a-half star rating. What did work, aside from the music and the performances, was Cherie’s descending into the world of drugs and sex, after the band makes it big in Japan. That was convincing enough.

Like I said, “The Runaways” is not a great biopic—it’s a good one and I’m giving it three stars. I just wish the screenplay went further ahead with the band and the relationships. Luckily, they have the performances and the music to compensate for the script’s weaknesses.

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