A Runaway Revival

The Runaways isn’t at all what you’d expect.
Starring actresses from the (poorly-acted) Twilight series, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are surprisingly convincing as real-life rockers Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, who are thrust into stardom during their teenage years as members of the all-girl rock band, aptly named “The Runaways.” The film chronicles their rise and fall in an industry where sex and drugs are rampant.

Jett wants to form an all-girl rock band and is told by her manager, Kim Fowley, that she needs to find a pretty, blonde lead singer. Jett conveniently meets Currie in a night club and decides that she would be the perfect fit for the band, thus The Runaways is born.

Stewart plays Joan, an electric guitar-playing teenager who will do anything to become a famous rock star. Stewart definitely nails Joan’s look with the perfect haircut and clothes, and acts the part of a budding rock star pretty well, too.

But the movie’s main focus is Cherie, and Fanning does a believable job of portraying the innocence of the character at the beginning of the film and her subsequent lapse into drug addiction when she becomes famous at the mere age of 16.

While Jett’s family life is never fleshed out, viewers get a taste of Cherie’s living situation: Her mother abandons Cherie and her sister for her new husband, and her alcoholic father is routinely stuck in bed for days at a time. Since the movie is based on Currie’s real-life memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, it is understandable that she’d be the main focus of the movie.

Michael Shannon plays Fowley, The Runaways’ flamboyant manager, who lands them a record deal and has them go on tour in Japan, where the girls encounter their first taste of the rock star lifestyle. Much like he did in last year’s film Revolutionary Road, Shannon truly steals every scene he is in and is definitely the strongest actor in the film, garnering many laughs with his over-the-top behavior.

Some of the best moments of the film are the performance scenes with Stewart and Fanning rocking out onstage, making it understandable why the band is revered as a classic rock icon. At the same time, some of these scenes are uncomfortable to watch, as the young Fanning struts across the stage in a revealing outfit; throughout the film, her character is referred to as “jailbait.”

Other moments in the film, however, are more contrived. Jett is repeatedly told by her manager that a girl rock band won’t make it in a male-dominated music industry and the other band members get jealous when Cherie has her own photo shoot and appears in a magazine by herself. The film also dabbles into a lesbian relationship that is not worth the hype.

The Runaways works best when it focuses on the girls’ experiences in the band and their process of making music. Overall, the lead actors deliver solid performances.

Ultimately, the film offers an accurate glimpse into the ’70s: a decade where rock ‘n’ roll was at the top of its game.