From their ratty beginnings, rehearsing in a disused caravan to their shortlived but headspinning success, The Runaways were the mid 1970s rock n'roll pioneers of girl bands. The wannabe suburban Cherie Curran (Dakota Fanning) is a David Bowie fan, and wants to sing. She naively fronts up to rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who likes her looks and introduces her to budding drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve), and soon they have the beginnings of a band, with Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) on rhythm guitar. At Fowley's urging, they push harder and harder into the male dominated world - with music and attitude emulating the macho bands of the day. They are soon signed to Mercury Records and go on a smash hit tour of Japan ... but Cherie's soaring star as the sex kitten of the band is being undermined by sex, drugs & rock n' roll, as well as a troubled family scene.
Review by Louise Keller:
People always remember the singer, we are told, and in The Runaways, we remember Dakota Fanning's sensational performance as the blonde singing bombshell Cherie Currie: the face of the all-girl rock band, who is a little bit Bowie and a little bit Bardot. Fanning nails the essence of the vulnerable daughter of an alcoholic, whose look is precisely what appeals to opinionated, flamboyant music impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, outrageous). It's not about women's lib, it's about women's libido, he screams to the five susceptible, eager rebels as they scream their songs in rehearsal in a dingy Los Angeles trailer.
Based on Cherie's book Neon Angel, director Floria Sigismondi's screenplay is a music-fuelled coming of age story, loosely based on the 70s rock band formation. The film sizzles with attitude and rebellion as the dark sport of rock'n roll becomes the ticket. Life, relationships and egos all come into play, as the girls indulge in their fantasy trip of booze, pills, foul language and music in pursuit of stardom.
Kristen Stewart gets away from her vulnerable Twilight character here, ably portraying Joan Jett, the 15 year old guitarist song-writer with the Elvis-black hair who wears black leather and wants to play guitar like Chuck Berry. Joan and Cherie are the two pivots that keep the band alive; theirs is a complex relationship as they grow up in a precipitous environment, where excess is worshiped and restraint is unknown. The girls have different priorities and when Cherie dons an outfit more suitable for the peep show circuit, Joan's focus of the music comes to the fore. 'Publicise our music, not our crutch,' she snaps. Most telling is Cherie's relationship with her twin sister Marie (well played by Riley Keough, who will always be known as Elvis' granddaughter).
With its platform shoes, heavy eye makeup, jumpsuits and face paint, The Runaways delivers a snapshot in time of life in the mid 70s, when rock'n roll and all its ugly spoils is the ultimate allure. There is no glorification of a superficial life in which self-destruction is inevitable, although we learn of Cherie and Joan's choices and respect their courage as survivors. As a film experience, although we are drawn right into its rhythms, the journey is tempered and as a result, the rewards are limited.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Be careful what you ask for is probably etched into Cherie Curry's (Dakota Fanning) heart with a burning cigarette; she was 15 when all she wanted was to be a singer like David Bowie. With nothing more than front, she manages to get a hearing from the famous rock promoter, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) and is soon part of a hopeful band of girls under his guidance. He teaches them to perform like the boys, hurling sex and venom at their audiences.
As they scream and shout their way to success, Cherie leaves home, where her sister is looking after their alcoholic dad, and their mother (Tatum O'Neil) has left for Indonesia with her new man. Thrust into the spotlight, the band gets a taste of success and quickly finds the perks and distractions of a rock n'roll life style, where sex and drugs are the daily currency. Hardly news these days, but the novelty is that these are very young girls and the spectacle of their descent into the abyss is sad.
Still, there is not much that the film tells us beyond the obvious, and there are no revelations or insights into character that provide the glue that might make this a universally appealing film - unlike a few other real-life stories of rock musos (eg Control, about Joy Division). The fans of The Runaways and perhaps would-be emulators (young girls with a burning desire to be rock stars) will find something of interest, but for others the best things about the film are the performances.
Dakota Fanning is growing up and maturing into a fine actress, capable of delivering a character like Cherie who makes the swing from naïve suburban 15 year old to worldly wise and corroded 17 year old with conviction. It's her story and she makes a compelling case study. Kirsten Stewart is also effective as the rocking Joan Jett who drives the band's heart and soul - on remote control from Fowley, a thoroughly flamboyant performance by Shannon.
There is too much done for sheer effect in the film, from camera angles to complete scenes, but not enough to explore the substance of these characters and their decisions.
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RUNAWAYS, THE (MA)
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Johnny Lewis, Tatum O'Neil, Brett Cullen, Hannah Marks, Jill Andre
PRODUCER: Art Linson, John Linson, William Pohlad
DIRECTOR: Floria Sigismondi
SCRIPT: Floria Sigismondi (book by Cherie Currie)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benoit Debie
EDITOR: Richard Chew
MUSIC: George Drakoulias
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eugenio Caballero
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 15, 2010