The Runaways (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Runaways (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTForty minutes into The Runaways, the girls are performing one of their first shows and everything is coming together wonderfully.  All the pent up aggression and hormones are released into the air and it's an orgasmic celebration of rock music.  Most of the performance scenes work like this, and you can practically feel the sweat dripping off of the screen as they hit each note with direct precision.  The rest of the movie could have used this kind of focus and intensity, because there's little reason to care about these girls outside their performances.

The Runaways is a standard issue rock music biopic about the band of the same name, choosing to focus on it's lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart).  I hope that you aren't planning on learning much about them other than their names, or anything about the other folks in the band, because the script written for this film isn't the slightest bit interested in anything other than their lives on and off the stage.

We do get a little bit of information about Cherie.  She was into the gender bending rock of David Bowie, had an eternally absent mom, drunk and dying father, and her only friend was her sister.  But aside from providing a little bit of motivation, and eventually folks to run to, these scenes do nothing but provide unnecessary derails in the start of the movie.  When it comes to Joan Jett, we learn even less.  As far as her backstory is presented, she liked to get high and hang out in leather shops for guys when she wasn't playing guitar.  That's another precious five minutes of screentime that could have been sliced out to tighten up the production.

After plodding through the first ten minutes Joan recognizes a famous producer named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) hanging outside a club.  She approaches him and plants the idea in his head for an all girl rock group.  The wheels in his head start turning immediately, and he starts gathering girls together to form the band.  After deciding that the crew could use a little dangerous/kitten-esque sex appeal he finds Cherie hanging out in a club, and recruits her as the lead singer.  From here the film follows the pretty standard trajectory of success, drugs, fallout, and post-rock life credit sequences where we find out what happened to everyone.

Let's get this perfectly straight, this movie is not boring, just boringly constructed.  Someone should have taken another look at what they were filming and realized it's nothing but a bunch of stock cliche's, but apparently everyone was content for the bland material they have.  Opportunities arise for the filmmakers to question and utilize the gender bending effects of glam and rock during the time but fail to capitalize on the opportunity.  Even issues of gender discrimination are only briefly dealt with to provide a quick jolts of reality, then quickly swept back under the carpet with nary a lingering effect.

What isn't lazy about the film involves the acting and the in film performances.  The three leads are superb in each of their roles.  Dakota Fanning always bugged me when she was younger, but hit's a lot of tough and confusing notes as she descends into her role as the group diva.  But as good as Fanning is, she cowers to the sparks generated whenever Kristen Stewart or Michael Shannon are onscreen.  Stewart brings so much damn credibility to her role that it's easy to see why so many were intimidated by her on stage charisma.  Both of them are pretty good ringers for the actual Cherie and Jett as well, so when they get up on stage it's got an authentic rock vibe in a lot of different ways.

Shannon is an unusual case, and plays Kim as a terrifying presence.  It's clear from the first time we see him that he never really bought into the glam lifestyle and is just using the girls as a menas of marketing to a new audience.  There are a lot of scenes between him, Cherie and Jett where he's trying to force them into manly woman boxes that they're uncomfortable traversing.  He plays their weaknesses against each other and goads them to bring out the best of their abilities.  A late film confrontation between he and Jett stands as the highlight of the movie, erasing any doubt about who was pulling the strings in the band and where they might go form here.

Then there's the matter of the rock performances in the film.  They are sweaty, raw, aggressive, and hypnotizingly sexual.  There's one show in particular, when The Runaways are playing in Japan, when Cherie decides to try out a more cabaret-esque look and the whole thing descends into a slow motion orgy.  The music is just as driving, but the stage is flooded with a dark red as each of the girls gets their turn in the slow motion spotlight, moaning to the rhythm and screams of the crowd.  Not all of the performance scenes are this good, but strike the same passionate nerve each time.

It's just a shame that the rest of the movie couldn't benefit from the energy generated by those scenes, or the amazing performances present.  If you're going in looking to learn a bit more about The Runaways, you'll be disappointed - and if you just want a bracing rock film you'll only get that half the time.  Performances this good deserve a better script, one that isn't afraid to ask questions about the girls (or their manager for that matter), and the affect they had on rock history.  It's an ok tribute, but not one worth watching anytime soon.

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The Runaways (2010)

Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Michael Shannon.

Posted by Andrew

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