The Runaways (2010) dir. Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristin Stewart, Michael Shannon
By Alan Bacchus
This rock ‘n’ roll girl power film is the ideal showcase for Floria Sigismondi’s first feature. Music aficionados know her as the primo visual artist and the music video pioneer responsible for the grimy textured videos of Marilyn Manson and many other eye popping videos for artists such as Sigur Ros and Christina Aguilera. And so when Ms. Sigismondi writes and directs a drug-fuelled bad ass punk music film about Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford and the rest of the girl rockers The Runaways we must pay attention.
While the final film is spotty on its story and character, Ms. Sigismondi’s powerful visuals and 70’s punk attitude is like rocket fuel, moving us through the decade so fast, we barely notice its shortcomings.
The movie is being billed as the Joan Jett film, but its actually the story of Cherie Currie, the flamboyant drug addicted lead singer, which also serves as Dakota Fanning’s coming out party as a mature woman mixing it up, snorting coke and doing the nasty all over the place.
In fact, the movie begins with Currie’s entry into womanhood, the opening shot, a drop of blood on the ground, which when the camera moves up reveals it’s from between her legs. The symbolism is not lost on us, as quickly Currie turns into a full fledged woman once she realizes the power of her body and sexuality. But it takes the bombastic music producer Kim Fowler (Michael Shannon), who is looking for a female singer for the all girl rock band spearheaded by Joan Jett, to coax her into revealing her inner superstar.
Fowler quickly assembles the band and educates Jett, Currie and the rest of his girls how to be rockers. Once again Michael Shannon, who is currently on a remarkable string of scene stealing supporting roles, is a firecracker of inspired idiosyncratic creativity, playing Fowler as a glamed-up motivational speaker on speed. Fowler is willing to shamelessly exploit everything to do with the girls’ sexuality and abilities to cock tease his intended audience. And Fanning successfully sexes herself up relinquishing any preconceived memories of her as a ‘child actress’.
In the story, it takes just one rockin’ montage sequence to get the girls from naïve wannabe musicians to full fledged coke snorting, hotel room trashing rockers. The middle act sails along fuelled by all these debaucheries, raw guitar riffs and sexual energy of the band at its peak. The usual tropes of the rock and roll genre creep in, the downfall of the band from Cherie Currie’s out of control ego, Joan Jett’s conflict over the need for respectability and ultimately the core emotional arc, Cherie’s need to reconcile with her former family life she left behind years ago.
Along the way a few balls are fumbled. A relationship between Currie and the roadie fizzles, and her drug addiction and ego problems appear much too suddenly in the third act, as if Sigismondi forgot there needs to be narrative shifts in conflict and character to abide by.
Although the film is beautiful to look at with eye candy in every corner of each frame, surprisingly Sigismondi holds back enough not to make it look completely like a music video. And in a few sequences where Sigismondi’s music video look rears its head, against the rip roaring punk attitude, we have no problem forgiving these dalliances. Rock on.