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Biographies have always been a great source of material for films. Even if there is only a slight dollop of reality contained in the story audiences appear to react favorably towards and movie claiming ‘based and real events.' Realistically, you would be better served to read the book or books used as the source material for the film but if you go into it with the expectation of entertainment over elucidation than a bio-pic can be as a lot of fun. It seems to hold especially true for biographically inclined films based on the lives of famous musicians. There is nothing new about this trend. In the forties, several hit films were about big band leaders or the crooner at the top of the charts. Even in recent years biographies of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash not only drew in the audiences but took home a considerable number of awards to boot. One particular portion of this genre concerns the music of my generation; rock and roll. A rock oriented bio-pic affords the film maker ample opportunity to include every facet required for great entertainment; energy, hard driving music and of course the often lethal combination of sex and drugs. One of the latest films to take on this very specific genre is ‘The Runaways,' a glimpse at the rapid rise and ultimate self destruction of one of the first and still most famous female rock band; ‘Joan Jett and the Runaways.' A parental warning is in order at this point. Parents will recognize several of the actresses in this movie and associate them with movies considered suitable for the tweens in your family. Do not go by the cast here; this is not a film intended for children and is rated ‘R’ for excellent reasons. For those of us that remembers this pivotal era in rock and roll. Even if you are not in this demographic, you will still be highly entertained by synergetic performances and some stellar performances.

Behind the creation of the screenplay and the artistc responsibilty of directing its transition to film was a newcomer in both arenas of endeavor, Floria Sigismondi. While her prior experience was not in feature films she has directed numerous music video collections including one for s more recent female rocker; Sheryl Crow is also working with the likes of Bjork and David Bowie. The basis of the main story is the autobiographical work by one of the primary members of the band Cherie Currie, ‘Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway.' Ironically for one of the pioneers of hard punk rock her last listed credits were a multi-episode arc on the king of the retirement home ‘Matlock.' Fortunately, the period covered here was set during Ms. Currie’s more salacious period. The film symbolically sets the stage with a common enough occurrence although one that can pale a strong man, a drop of menstrual blood. The universal sign of a young girl becoming a woman here takes on a different meaning here. In this context, it represents the feminization of rock and roll. Even in that, the Runaways altered the view of femininity from the old fashion sugar and spice to demonstrate to the world that young women can rock as hard as any man. Unfortunately, the affectations of the rock and roll lifestyle would exert the same deleterious effects one these women as they often did with the guys. The film focuses primarily on Currie remarkably played by Dakota Fanning and her ‘Twilight Saga’ co star Kristen Stewart as their front woman Joan Jett. Rounding out the group but relegated to the background are lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and bassist Jackie Fox who for some unexplained reason is called Robin (Alia Shawkat) in this movie. Although titled ‘The Runaways’ this is actually about the influence of Jett and Currie on the mid seventies’ music scene. Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) was just looking for someone with enough talent and a unique hook that he can parley into the big personal score. The movie shows hoe he thought he had a kitten by the tail with 15 year old Currie (Fanning’s age during the filming) but Cherry and Joan soon proved to be a pair of unstoppable tigresses.

The purpose of the film is not to provide a historically accurate look at these young women but rather to present a feel for the time; transmitting the energy, not necessarily the facts. To that goal, the film sure succeeds. Watching a heavily made up, corseted Fanning belting out a powerhouse rendition of Cherry Pie is disconcerting at first. After all, we all watched her grow up in films we loved. This was the child who gave interviews on TV with her front teeth missing. Back in 1975 when Currie took the stage with the same look, it had a similar effect. It was an end of innocence as women took center stage in the previously male only world of heavy rock. All child stars have to face the transition to mature roles. Fanning and Stewart hit the ground running here. The casting is perfect for a story about a manipulative man trying to launch ‘jail-bait’ rock only to discover these young women not only had the talent to make it without him but the drive to make him superfluous. Althoiugh created as a novelty act it became a sensation altering the course or rock paving the way for the women who would follow? The direction avoids the feel of an overly extended music video capturing the essence of the lead characters. It does not present much in the way of details but makes up for this with a drive of its own. The movie is excellent in showcasing the enhanced audio of high def giving a pulsating sound stage accompanying a robust color palette.

Much to their credit both of these young women decided to commit to their roles by fully committing to capturing the essence of the individuals they were portraying. Ms. Stewart apparently had some experience with her band, but for Ms. Fanning it required her assuming a vastly different persona than what she had previously undertaken. Stewart had her share of notice, a significant portion of it considered detrimental. On the otherhand, Ms. Fanning built her career on the roles that encompassed her childhood. She was typically the cute, highly intelligent young girl that always managed to get the better of the adults in any situation. She also managed to extend that polite, intelligent and compliant personality to her off-screen life is concentrating on her Ivy League education rather that the familiar post child star confusion, disillusionment, and spiraling into jail and rehab. To watch her in a role portraying a rebellious young woman undoubtedly was a shock to some avid fans. Many fans seem to overlook the fact that child stars are children. These children are just as depejdent on the family adults as in aby hone situation, perhaphs moreso. The undergo stress and responsibiolity far beyond normal for tanyone their age, according to interviews I have encountered by Dakota and her younger sister, their parents went throug substancial efforts to ensure as much normalcy as possible, Dekota had enrolled in a typical school, attended regular classes and sold Girl Scort cookies. This stablilty juxaposed with the rebilious nature of her chacter required a drastic change from what was her image had always been. For many fans the change from her actual demeanor demeaner, to someone barely dreesed in a corset with outlandish makeup, evident decolletage and stockings were a significant paradigm shift. On top of the drastic alteratiob to her appearance was her subject’s penchant for sexual inuendo, swearing, drinking, and smoking. Is a childstar expects to extend their livelhood of creative expression then they have to undertake mature roles? Fortunately, Ms. Fanning appears to have a soild emotional foundation and supportive family that she could assume this role as part of her creative growth not, a new rebelious direction to take. She has mad that ardious transition from young girl to a young woman better than most in her circumstances. Afterall Ms. Stewart was also a child star albiet with a different path to that stage of her career. Together they create a syngergistic chemistry that infuses the film with a sense of realism and veracity to the story. As it has been noted by many who have seen this film, these girls can play!

bulletCommentary with Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart, and Dakota Fanning
bulletBehind The Scenes Making Of featurette

Posted 06/15/2010            05/06/2017

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