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The Runaways
Genre Music
Year: 2010

Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Sandy West, Lita Ford and Robin were The Runaways, a 1975 American all-girl band that set the stage alight with their no-holds barred punk glam rock performance and titillating outfits. The film condenses the story of The Runaways into a form-fame-dissolve, partly for dramatic appeal and partly because some of the members refused the use of their life stories in recreating this music biography. The position of bass guitarist changed several times of the years and so it was almost fitting that the generic bassist character of Robin was created for Alia Shawkat.

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart play Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, the central friendship this coming-of-age music biopic focuses on. It's one of Fanning's first mature audience roles alongside Twilight's Kristen Stewart and the two do a fine job of bringing these characters to life. It's said that each of the band members modeled themselves on their heroes and renowned music video director, Floria Sigismondi, brings a little bit of her experience with David Bowie into the picture with Currie's obsession with the music idol.

This is your atypical rock 'n roll biography... except its about an all-girl band in their teens. All this seems to do is heighten the shock value of their exploits on tour and left to their own devices. They're underage, they've never been so dangerous before and where are their mothers in all of this? The Runaways is an apt title for the band and for the film. These girls were basically prolific runaways with enough talent to pave the way forward to the next gig and fix.

They only survived as a band for about four years, but seemed to have done it all in a short space of time. As Joan Jett described, it was like "Beatlemania" when they touched down in Japan, where their 'Cherry Bomb' single made it to the number 1. Touring back home in America wasn't all that different, performing at sold out shows and opening for Van Halen, Cheap Trick and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The Runaways were a sensation, a statement and an influence to artists such as Pink, Miley Cyrus and a host of all-girl rock bands like L7, The Donnas and The Go-Gos.

This film confirms all the details, relives their glory days and portrays the same old story of rise to fame and then fall out. Some of the facts may have been blurred, but the spirit of the group comes through in this gritty, competent and spirited rendition with Joan Jett as producer. The band's hard partying, drugs and sexual experimentation feed back into the "Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n Roll" lifestyle of the era. The characters may be different, but it's the only way it seems you can sell a rockumentary these days.

While it's old hat in terms of formula, the nuggety performances from the co-leads in Fanning and Stewart and another fantastic turn from Michael Shannon give The Runaways some real substance. It's that "stick it to the man" girl power grit that drives this music biopic and distinguishes itself from the glut of rock band bios out there. The story has been tailored a bit, but since its an education on what not to do... we'll allow some flexibility on interpretation. The Runaways is more Velvet Goldmine than School of Rock, so just because you saw the actresses in a family film does not make The Runaways for everyone.

The bottom line: Gritty.


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