THE RUNAWAYS Movie Review – Sundance 2010

     January 24, 2010

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With fantastic performances from Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon, The Runaways delivered the goods at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story by Cherie Currie, The Runaways tells the coming-of-age story of the teenage rock band The Runaways and how they came together in the mid 1970’s.  Kristen Stewart stars as Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning is Cherie Currie, and Michael Shannon stars as the über-eccentric Kim Fowley – the man who put The Runaways together.

While there was a lot of debate if the film would show a no-holds-barred account of what The Runaways really went through back in the 70’s – like the drug use and the in-band make-out sessions – not only does the film show a warts-and-all look at what happened to the band – at times you’ll feel like you’re watching documentary footage from the era as Stewart and Fanning are really playing and singing in the film, and they both deliver inspired performances.  For more of my thoughts on the film, hit the jump:

The_Runaways_movie_image_Dakota_Fanning_Kristen_Stewart.jpgThe first thing to know is if you’re wishing you were at Sundance to see The Runaways, Apparition bought the film and it’ll be released in America on March 19, 2010.  So it’s only a short wait.

The movie opens in 1975 Los Angeles.  We’re quickly introduced to Joan Jett and Cherie Currie and what they were going through in their lives.

Jett was a loner trying to figure out her look and a way to play guitar when women were considered groupies and not members of a band.  At the same time, Cherie Currie was a tenth grader idolizing David Bowie and hanging out in the same local clubs as Jett.  When Joan Jett runs into Kim Fowley outside a venue, she pitches the idea of an all girls rock band and after some makeshift rehearsals and band auditions, The Runaways are born.

It’s when the group is forming that we get some awesome scenes of Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley.  Also, to help get the group ready for the road and what being a rock star is all about, Fowley makes the girls go through band camp where he teaches them the ropes and delivers some killer dialogue.  Remember, at the time, an all girls rock band had never been done and Fowley realizes he might have a huge hit on his hands.  Finally after some local parties, the band hits the road and we watch as The Runaways make the big time.

As the journey unfolds, the teenage girls begin to experiment with drugs, their sexuality, and how to survive as a band, which Cherie Currie pushes too far in almost every way.

Again, the performances are fantastic across the board, and Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning really impressed me with their portrayals of these still-living rock stars.

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What I really liked about the movie is that it doesn’t take any sides about The Runaways story.  Writer/director Floria Sigismondi paints a realistic portrait of Los Angeles in 1975 and what was going on in Joan Jett’s and Cherie Currie’s lives.  We get to see how each of them lived and what brought them together.  And after they got famous and made it in the record industry, Sigismondi paints a portrait not of judgment or condemnation, but simply as it was.  The story has enough ups and downs that she didn’t need to use a heavy hand to tell the story, which some filmmakers might have done.

The other thing to know about the film is that while the movie has a great supporting cast featuring Scout Taylor-Compton (Lita Ford), Alia Skawkat (Robin who is a fictional composite of all the people that played bass in the band), and Stella Maeve (Sandy West), they’re relegated to background players with only a few scenes.  Sigismondi focuses on the Jett-Currie-Fowley relationship, and it’s a smart decision that pays off.

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Of course what would a review of The Runaways be without some mention of the rumored make out scene between Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning?

Yes, the movie has such a scene, but it’s tastefully done.  You never get the feeling that Sigismondi is using either actress more than is necessary to show the two had a night together.  But it’ll be very interesting to see what the Twilight fans think of this scene, especially Stewart’s teenage fanbase.

My larger question is what parents are going to do with their kids who want to see Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett?  Even though the film doesn’t glorify or condone any questionable action in the movie, you see Kristen Stewart (and Dakota Fanning) doing drugs, kissing girls, and walking around with not much clothing on.  The Runaways is an R-rated film that explores a different era and I think depending on the kid, some parents may have to do some actual parenting and say that while Stewart plays Bella Swan and Joan Jett, Bella Swan is nothing like Joan Jett.

Exercise common sense.

Final Thoughts

While some Sundance movies have a lot of buzz before the festival, The Runaways will ride its Sundance momentum into theaters this March and should be able to mint a lot of coin from worldwide audiences.  Also, with a killer soundtrack and an honest portrayal of The Runaways, the band should enjoy a bump in sales and a lot of new fans finding their music.

But more than anything, The Runaways is a great movie filled with honest and real performances from its experienced and talented lead actors.

Definitely recommended.

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