The Runaways (2010) dir. Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon
by Reece Crothers
Based on lead singer Cherie Currie's memoir "Neon Angel" and written for the screen by 90s music video darling, (and OCAD grad) Floria Sigismondi, this is a rock n' roll movie that kicks ass and packs an emotional punch.
The performances are uniformly excellent with leads Fanning and Stewart proving their acting chops and standing out among their peers as true actors in a sea of celebrities who are famous for being famous. There is something shocking and dangerous watching the veteran child stars emerge from the awkward teenage period (that most child actors don't survive) and you can't help but feel the authority of their work in dealing with precocious fame and all the pratfalls of excess that come with it. The film works almost as a love story between two artists and you couldn't ask for two actors with more chemistry, their very different energies complimenting each other extraordinarily well.
From the first frame in which she appears, Stewart inhabits Joan Jett. There is nothing of the Twilight Saga's Bella in her portrayal of the rock icon. Her mannerisms, the way she hunches her shoulders, the tough exterior, the drive to be taken seriously as an artist, the vulnerability, it's all over her face.
Fanning, as Currie, is just as impressive, playing the more tragic character, the 15 year old "jailbait", who truly suffers from the volcanic rise to fame of the first ever all girl rock group. There is something of a young Michelle Pfeiffer to Fanning's performance, the cat eyes, the fragile beauty. Like Pfeiffer, there is a lot more going on beside a pretty face and she is able to project a myriad of emotions in a flash of her deceptively vacant expression, the more you look at her the more you see right into her soul.
In a stand out supporting role as Kim Fowley, the record producer who gave The Runaways their start, Michael Shannon steals every scene he turns up in. He seems to really have fun with the role, and especially in the early scenes, there is a warmth to his performance that we haven't seen from him before. Shannon has been turning in exceptional work consistently ever since 'Jesus' Son'. If you haven't seen him in 'Shotgun Stories', get yourself to a video store immediately.
The story may be familiar, a rise-fall-redemprion, sex, drugs and rock n' roll excess tale, but because it's rooted in these great characters it manages to feel fresh. The "rise" part of the film is especially fun, exciting and propulsive. The scene where they write Cherry Bomb, which would become their first hit and launch them towards stardom is a particular highlight.
Writer/Director Sigismondi is no stranger to the music scene, one of the foremost talents in music videos for more than a decade. Like Anton Corbijn's recent Joy Division/ Ian Curtis biopic "Control", she delves deep into the music and it's creators to find the story behind the songs and delivers a stylish, sympathetic portrait of young artists and their work that is compelling whether you are a fan or not. Interesting too is Jett's credit as executive producer. Usually when the subject is credited as a producer it means you are going to get a whitewashed account, a fluff piece. Look no further than Puff Daddy's uber-disappointing Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious" for proof positive, but this movie has teeth, and claws.
See this for the performances of the leads and enjoy the music as a bonus. I dare you to walk out of the theater NOT singing either The Runaways' 'Cherry Bomb' or Jett's 'I Love Rock n' Roll'.