Film Review: The Runaways

The Runaways is a biopic about the ’70s American rock band of the same name, formed by six teenage girls (1975 – 1979). Based on lead-singer Cherie Currie’s book ‘Neon Angel’, and directed by Floria Sigismondi with rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Joan Jett as executive producer, the film is set to be released in UK cinemas on 27th August 2010.

The storyline is based on the formation of the band, the reflection of Cherie’s experiences and the heavy manipulation by their manager as ‘jail-bait rock’. It focuses on the stories of Cherie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan (Kristen Stewart) played by two current actresses from the Twilight saga cast. But these two are far from their teenage role model characters here; it is literally all sex, drugs and rock and roll.

All members of the band were under the age of 16 when they got together. We are introduced to Cherie and Joan as they are beginning to find their own unique personalities, distancing themselves from the popular crowds. Joan is told that, “Girls don’t play electric guitars,” but is confident in herself with her tough girl attitude and leather jacket, whilst Cherie is trying to find her own style with influences by David Bowie as she puts on a pair of tight leggings and takes a pair of scissors to her neatly styled hair.

Joan meets their soon-to-be manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) outside of a club in Hollywood and is introduced to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve). Deciding the band needs more sex-appeal, Kim chooses Cherie from a crowd in a nightclub to “be a part of rock and roll history.” Lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and bassist Robin (Alia Shawkat) are soon part of rehearsal. Jackie Fox didn’t want to be involved in any part of the film and requested that her name be changed in the story, so a fictional character was used as the bassist.

Sexuality is a key theme in the film; the girls are getting to know themselves, and each other, on some extreme levels whilst on tour. As well as being introduced to the ‘rock star’ life style of solvent abuse and pill-popping mayhem, Cherie is also having sex in her dressing room whilst Joan teaches Sandy how to masturbate with a showerhead; Kristen and Dakota even indulge in a lesbian sex scene. There’s nothing shy about these girls, and the film isn’t afraid to show it.

“Men don’t want to see women anywhere except in their kitchens or on their knees, let alone on stage holding guitars.”

The film holds a great storyline in the members’ experience of experimenting, with it be sex, drugs or alcohol, taking chances in life and making the most of a situation to really find yourself and to learn from your mistakes.

The characters of Cherie and Joan are played really well by Kristen and Dakota (even Twilight haters couldn’t deny it). Dakota’s angelic face, recognisable from the young girl in War of the Worlds, portrays Cherie’s innocence subtly as she starts smoking a cigarette backwards, trying to fit in with her new lifestyle. And Kristen easily fits the role of a reckless rock star, smashing up sets and singing in the bathtub. The two can actually hold a tone as well and reproduce the catchy hit “Cherry Bomb” quite respectably.

End credits briefly explain that Cherie was unable to carry on performing after the band split because of her drug problems. Finally overcoming her addictions, she helped counsel teenagers with similar problems, and her book delivers a strong anti-drug warning to other teens.

However, the film completely misses the anti-drug warning that the book offers; the band members’ care-free lives of alcohol and drug abuse could give quite a negative impression on its audience. But it’s nice to see the focus on a group of young girls taking control and living life how they want to, rather than seeing the contrasting side of a band of old, hairy men taking advantage of them.

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