“This isn’t about women’s lib, kitties, this is about women’s libido!
Not since Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” do I recall a movie about teenage girls starting with such an overt depiction of the outset of puberty. I mean, the first shot of “The Runaways” literally shows a drop of blood falling to the ground from between Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning)’s legs, as she gets her first period. Right there, this is a clear sign that writer-director Floria Sigismondi doesn’t intend to shy away from showing us things like they are, blood, sweat and tears included.
Another thing that’s really welcomed is the almost complete absence of moral judgment on the filmmaker’s part. In fact, most often, Sigismondi actually seems to get off on the titillating mayhem that is at the core of the story of The Runaways, the first all-girl rock band, who paved the way for groups like The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, Bikini Kill, The Donnas and my personal favorites, Pony Up! So they were very influential but, as is often the case, their run didn’t last long, at least not with the original line-up. But what a run it was!
Between 1975 and 1977, glam rock lolita Cherie, punk rocker Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and their fellow Runaways were brought together by sleazy manager-producer Kim Fowley (an absolutely hilarious Michael Shannon, who steals the movie), perfected their raw and sexy sound (“That’s the sound of hormones raging!”), recorded a couple of albums (which included infectious hits like Cherry Bomb, California Paradise, You Drive Me Wild, Dead End Justice, Queens of Noise and I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are) and toured extensively across the US and overseas, including in Japan, where they caused Beatlemania-like hysteria!
The girls’ music was damn great in my opinion, but there’s no mistake that their appeal lied in part in their sexuality, which Fowley shamelessly encouraged them to flaunt even though they were underage (“Jail fucking bait, jack fucking pot!”). Was this empowering or exploitative? Sigismondi wisely lets us decide for ourselves, contenting herself with showing The Runaways strutting around on stage in skimpy outfits and partying up a storm, getting drunk and taking all kinds of drugs, for better or worse. Also getting much screen time is the girl-girl sexual tension between Jett and Currie, which leads to the much-ballyhooed make-out scene between Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning…
Speaking of which (Kristen and Dakota, not their make-out scene!), both actresses must be commended for their performances, which are appropriately intense. Stewart and Fanning also do their own singing and I have to say, they rock pretty hard! I also liked how Floria Sigismondi shot most of her film as if through a haze, full of smoke, bleeding lights and distortion.
Unfortunately, as is the case with too many musical biopics, the third act is a bummer, the giddy thrills of the beginnings and the rise to fame being replaced by the obligatory dramatic clichÃ©s (tensions between band members, family issues, substance abuse taking its toll, etc.). Even if this is just reflecting reality, there must be a way to not dwell on this so much, at least not in such a conventional, tedious manner. Still, up until those less enthusing final reels, “The Runaways” is a fun, badass little flick and remains worth seeing for that.