THE RUNAWAYS, Floria Sigismondi (2010)
First things first. The Runaways were the very first female wild rock band and their influence has prevailed over the years, no matter their story was very short. Joan Jett is a kind of myth for rock lovers, she’s an icon, and is great she’s still rocking on stage. I had the opportunity to see her in a very brief show supporting Alice Cooper and was fantastic.
Once this said, let’s talk about the biopic based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. Considering the source and the fact that Joan Jett was deep involved in the project you can quickly guess two things: first, there’s money behind, good budget enough to count on one of the most promising actresses or let’s say the most active young actresses nowadays, such as Kristen Stewart, and second, it won’t be an objective story for obvious reasons. Still, a biopic of such an explosive band of chicks able to reach rockin’ heaven but with such short story left, definitely is worth watch it, although it takes a risk too, with Hollywood empire behind.
The story starts nonconformist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) trying to learn how to play electric guitar, facing a society on which girls were sort of banned from rock n’ roll environment. She approaches Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), an eccentric man in business, insisting on what to support a female rock band would mean in terms of success. Although he initially rejects the idea, he’ll be keeping in touch with her checking from time to time on the progress of the project. First Joan and drummer Sandy Maest will start jamming in an abandoned caravan until they’re able to call Fowley’s attention. Once he gets involved, he will assist to put up the band together and will monitor everything, but will realize there’s a missing piece to start succeeding.
That missing piece turns out to be Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a 15-year-old kid devoted to David Bowie, her main influence in all senses. Her charming attitude and appearance make her unique, and both Jett and Fowley won’t have any doubt she’d be the perfect lead singer.
Once the band is settled and ready, they will hit the road in not the most recommendable conditions for jail bait girls, not reaching 18 years old. They soon will be seduced by drugs, booze and sex, especially Cherrie, completely out of control. Touring non- stop, they will get a record deal, and the spiral of success and debauchery will start recklessly with consequences.
I enjoyed the film up to some point. On one hand work on costumes, the way the girls look and rehearsal and stage performances are amazingly recreated. Both Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play the roles quite decent, and you actually enjoy their performances.
But I find many buts though. What I consider completely unfair is not focusing as much on the band as on Cherrie and Joan. What happens with Lita Ford? She’s also an icon in rock music, everybody knows who she is, and the only information we got about her is that at some point she quarrels with Cherrie. It’s like the band just formed once Jett had composed a couple of songs with the drummer, and that’s not accurate at all.
Unfortunately the story of the Runaways gets distorted caused mainly for focusing on the love story between Joan Jett and Cherrie Currie and the incredible drug abuse by these still kids.
If you really think about it, teenage girls touring the US and even Japan without adult supervision can only mean trouble and, linked to rock, excess in all senses. And that’s what happened to Cherie Currie, she was completely wasted just with 16 years old, hooked up on drugs, constantly overdosing, and developing an unbearable diva attitude, the others couldn’t stand. This kind of situation would be impossible nowadays.
On the other hand Joan Jett, balancing success and excess with music talent, and working hard to keep in music business, as she’s still nowadays. From the very beginning that morbid curiosity of the audience regarding her sexual condition immediately is made clear. Jett is lesbian, and yes, she and Cherie Currie had sexual contact, a fact which is reflected on the film and apparently has become of major interest the two young actresses appear kissing each other.
The aesthetics in the film is of great importance. We’re in front of a mainly visual product, above any dialogue, which are actually very limited and poor, focusing on musical performances, hallucinating effects of drugs… all accurately placed in order to highlight chaos and debauchery. Sometimes it also reminded me of Velvet Goldmine, and don’t think is a silly impression, as Floria Sigismondi, the film director, has worked with Bowie in some videos and many other artists. No doubt she was the right choice in terms of visual aspects, and why not? Being a woman encouraged the project even more.
Unfortunately I think with this film audience won’t realize the importance of a band such as the Runaways back in their time and what their work would mean not only in the history of rock n’ roll but also in the emerging participation and proliferation of female bands. At the end of the day, for me, devoted to music, it’s hard to admit that women in rock are difficult to succeed, depending on the direction you take, but be sure you’ll always be judged no matter the role you take. Being in such an honest mood I got to admit I don’t usually like female bands, but those I like, I’m a diehard fan: L7, Heart, The Donnas…
Anyway, from time to time a rock biopic is always welcome, but unfortunately I don’t consider they’re well developed and always focus on same topics, sex and drugs, decadence and fall. It’s true most times it happens like that, but certain things cannot be avoided and are necessary to understand many things.
No doubt the best is the soundtrack, highly recommendable, the movie, after my deep thinking, entertaining.