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Movie Review: The Runaways

April 8, 2010

Dakota Fanning is all grown up and delivers an impressive performance  in this bio-pic that skims the story of the origins of The Runaways.  The all female rock band was a novelty in the 70′s, when founder Joan Jett (played by Kristen Stewart) was told on more than one occasion that “women don’t play electric guitar.”

Eschewing this advice, Jett strong-armed her way into meeting music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who saw a glimmer of talent and encouraged Jett to work the all-female angle of her band.  The first step was finding a charismatic lead singer. Enter Cherie (Dakota Fanning), an androgynous David Bowie enthusiast all of 15 years old.  Cherie is brought into the band, sexed up a bit, and soon is growling the infamous “Cherry bomb”  song, which was inspired by Cherie.

It is notable to mention that Cherie was hand picked on her look alone, actual talent seemed to be of secondary importance.  Seems some things about the music industry never change, huh?

If you are hoping for a true history of the band, you might be a little disappointed.  The Runaways quickly turns into a cautionary tale about the excesses of sex, drugs and rock and roll as the rise and fall of Cherie are put under a harsh light.  Incidentally, I’m not complaining.  I think it was interesting to focus on the two primary band members and show what wildly divergent paths their lives took after they formed the band.

The only downside is that supporting actors Scout Taylor-Compton, Stella Maeve, and Alia Shawkat are utterly wasted in the movie.  I saw the movie a few days ago, and I have already forgotten about their characters.

Dakota Fanning steals the show

However, what we get to see of Cherie’s predictable rise to fame and eventual burnout is fascinating.  You know where she is headed  from the moment she is plucked from obscurity.  Fanning is magnetic and proves she is no childhood fluke; she’s going to be around for a long time to come.

Michael Shannon plays Kim Fowley as sleazy and morally corrupt, which is what you would expect from a man who put 15-year olds in lingerie on stage to make a quick buck.  Kristen Stewart looks the part, and is convincing as the tough, butch Jett.  It is a nice change of pace from her twitchy, whiny portrayal of Bella from the Twilight series, and it renewed my faith in her as an actress.

The soundtrack features “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges, “Rebel, Rebel” by David Bowie, “Pretty Vacant” by the Sex Pistols, and songs by Suzi Quatro, Nick Gilder, The Runaways, and MC5.  Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning also throw in a few songs that were originally recorded by The Runaways.

Director Floria Sigismondi wrote the screenplay based on a memoir by Cherie Currie called Neon Angel. She has successfully brought the gritty tale of a pioneering female rock band to the big screen by focusing on the toll the band took on the lead singer.

Rating 3.5/5



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