Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon
Director: Floria Sigismondi
1975. Rock is a male-dominated genre, but young wannabe guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) has other ideas. She wants to start an all girl rock band called ‘The Runaways’. And that basically is the set-up of this conventional, yet hugely entertaining music biopic of the real life rebellious rock ensemble.
With their band, The Runaways kicked started the term ‘Girl Power’, i.e. youth female liberation, which was resurrected in the 1990s by the Spice Girls. Throughout this story we are reminded that women weren’t given the freedom afforded men in the music business. They were treated like sex objects, not musicians. This gives The Runaways an inspirational quality, as the girls want desperately to succeed and prove their sexist, male-dominated industry wrong.
Director Floria Sigismondi creates a believable seventies vibe, using retro credits and garish colours to capture the glam and rapid change of the period. Costume design by Carol Beadle more than adds to this, as she incorporates a slight punk element with leather, studs and dirty denim, especially for Jett.
On a limited budget this is certainly a good-looking production. With her music video background, Sigismondi displays a confident style and coherence in the concert sequences. Dakota Fanning puts in an especially gutsy performance belting out ‘Cherrybomb’ on stage in Japan. The rhythm is brilliantly realised; it’s an exhilarating watch.
Much of the hype for The Runaways is centred on Kristen Stewart tackling something different than a vampire/werewolf love triangle. Despite being perfectly watchable, she does not steal the movie away from standouts Fanning and, playing band manager Kim Fowley, Michael Shannon.
As lively Cherrie Currie, Dakota Fanning demonstrates she has the courage to undertake something new, surely all too aware of the tricky crossover from child actress to grown up movie star. It helps too that she sings her own songs. Surely a leading Hollywood career beckons in the future, if not an album.
Michael Shannon has become one of the most reliable character actors of recent years. He is clearly enjoying himself in this memorably abusive, power hungry guise, running with the nastiness to create the most memorable rock impresario since Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap.
Events do take a disappointing turn for the conventional for the film’s final act when drugs take over leading to the inevitable band split. Though this progression is perhaps unavoidable if it actually happens in real life, music movie cliché or no?
With energetic performances, a thumping rock soundtrack, fantastic concert sequences, and a convincing vintage look, The Runaways, despite its routine ending, is one music biopic to be reckoned with.
This review is based on The Runaways screening at the 2010 Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF). The film is released nationwide in the UK on 27th August.
© 2010 – 2012, Ben McCarthy.