The Runaways

Director: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rating: ****

Going into the cinema to see The Runaways, I couldn’t help but feel ambivalent. On the one hand, it’s a kinda-sorta-but-not-really biopic of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, the two lead members of the titular band, and there’s some defiantly feminist streak in me that means I get a kick out of seeing girls rocking out and telling the rest of the world where to stick it. On the other hand, I loathed the two actresses who were playing the aforementioned roles. Dakota Fanning’s career has been full of career lows (with her histrionic performance as Tom Cruise’s child in War of the Worlds certainly being the lowest). And that Kristen Stewart has contributed to an utter desecration of vampiric media that not even Christopher Lee could repair is, frankly, unforgivable. Thankfully, The Runaways is a good movie.

It’s a film total newcomers to the band can enjoy, something that a lot of music biopics don’t manage (Andy Serkis was compelling in Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, but not if you’d never heard of Ian Dury and the Blockheads), and charts the rise and fall of The Runaways’ brand of “jailbait rock”, along with the inevitable excesses, conflicts of interest, and the complex trajectory of the relationship between Currie and Jett. So convincing is the on-screen chemistry, that when the girl-on-girl scene between the two actually arrives, it actually feels emotionally charged rather than gratuitous.

It might be going a little too far to say that this film has turned around my perspective of the two actresses, but it’s certainly contributed towards redeeming them. Both deliver stellar performances, especially Stewart, and the supporting cast – including Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, in a series of scenes that threaten to steal the film – are either too fleeting to matter, or pitch-perfect. While the story is kept necessarily minimal (we see very little of the other band members, and there are two jumps in time towards the end that feel a little rushed), this is a film that feels incredibly intense, and it pushes the actresses outside their typical roles. With Stewart, there’s no more lip-biting, and it’s replaced with an adolescent rage that drives the band, and Fanning is so convincing as the girl who grew up too fast that you wonder if she’ll ever be able to play cutesy roles again.

As someone who loves 1970s punk rock, it’s perhaps unfair to comment on the soundtrack, but there are no bum tracks, and plenty of material from the group (in performances worthy of the originals) to remind us that, at least for Joan Jett, it was all about the music. When we hear the inevitable opening chords of Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, that’s all we hear – the film eschews musical cliché without going overboard in trying to seem “alternative”.

The pacing’s set just right, but there are occasional directorial hiccups – camera close-ups are a tired way to portray cocaine addiction. Overall, however, this is a compelling and surprisingly heartwarming film.

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