By Clint Morris
Why is it that, at the end of so many musical biopics, we don’t feel as if we know any more about the act or musician being profiled than what we did pre-film?
Many felt that after ”Great Balls of Fire”, the 1989 Dennis Quaid-as-Jerry Lee Lewis flick, and also ”Selena” (1997), the film in which Jennifer Lopez played murdered tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez. In more recent times, fans of the late Biggie Smalls felt ”Notorious” (2008), the film chronicling the late rapper’s upbringing, career and tragic death, didn’t even begin to paint a realistic, whole picture of Smalls. Though each of the actors that played the central character in those films won raves for their performance, the films did not.
And I expect it’ll be the same case with ”The Runaways”, the supposed back-story of one of rock’s earliest all-girl bands.
Main problem here is, the two main forces behind the band – that of legendary tomboy Joan Jett, and then 15-year-old sexpot Cherie Currie – led lives so wild, so eventful and not exactly commendable that their stories simply can’t be condescended into a soft, weren’t-they-lovely style 106 minute flick.
Merely skimming the events that consequently brought together and broke up The Runaways, director Florio Sigismondi’s film tells of two girls Currie and Jett (Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, respectively) who, along with two other girls (that we learn nothing about – the credits tell us they’re played by Halloween’s Scout Taylor-Compton and Arrested Development’s ‘Maebe’ Alia Shawkat, respectively), are recruited by an arrogant no-frills music producer (the brilliant Michael Shannon from ”Revolutionary Road”) to fill the spots in an all-girl rock band he’s putting together.
Currie being the cute, blonde fifteen-year-old of the group – as opposed to her dark-haired, slightly more frightening-looking colleagues – becomes the band’s official emblem, appearing scantily-clad in magazines, and just generally have the spotlight shun on her when the other girls in the band might not.
By the time ”The Runaways” win a major record label deal, Currie’s gone off-the-rails – she’s doing drugs, drinking excessively, and, by the looks of it, sleeping with older men (they don’t actually state it – they just show her, in various states of undress, with the odd, half-naked young man). Jett isn’t no angel either (not that you’d know it from the film), but she does, unlike her young friend and band member, no when enough is enough.
And, well, that’s about it. If you remember one moment from the film it won’t be a scene involving Currie and her drunken father, nor is it the scene where the girls find out they’ve been signed by Mercury Records, no it’s actually a concert sequence in which Currie performs the band’s hit, Cherry Bomb. Very saucy. Very hot. Very well-performed scene. You’ll likely buy the eventual DVD or Blu-ray just to play back the scene. (But geez, that doesn’t say much about the movie does it!? That’s like recommending one go watch Bruce Spinrgsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ video clip over watching director Leon Marr’s 1986 film, ”Dancing in the Dark”!).
”The Runaways” has been one of the year’s most anticipated films – and by two rather dissimilar crowds. There’s the thirty-something that actually remembers the band and/or grew up loving Joan Jett that’s got a genuine interest in knowing about their/her story. And then there’s the Twilight fan – they know nothing of Jett or Currie, and are merely there to see the stars of the fluffy ”New Moon” (that’s the second of the ”Twilight” movies for the uninitiated) reunite. Oh, and both crowds are probably looking forward to a certain same sex kiss scene, too.
Regrettably, both crowds will be disappointed. Not only does it feel as if the ‘Jett approved’ (and therein might lies it’s problem) film is holding back on us, saving all the ‘really’ wild stuff for an upcoming autobiography or just plain ol’ ashamed to ‘put it out there’ (in other words, don’t expect much from this ’same sex kiss scene’ either – it’s over before you can cough), but Kristen Stewart’s performance, though good, is merely the unmemorable support act to Dakota Fanning’s main act. Again, Stewart is good in the film – she looks the part, sounds the part (yep, she and Fanning really sing here), and does a reasonably good job of reminding the audience she’s capable of more than playing despondent vampire squeezes, but Jett’s story is barely touched upon, thus Stewart never really gets a chance to show us her stuff.
Fanning, looking ever-so-grownup, fares much better as Currie. Despite the lack of meat dangling from the film’s wire, Fanning’s able to still pump out a very impressive disappearing act of a performance that’ll leave jaws dropped and cynics stunned. She’s probably the sole reason to watch the film.
If the film weren’t called ”The Runaways”, it’d be called ‘The Cherrie Currie Story’ because, evidently, it’s all about her. Yes there’s a bunch of stuff in there about the band she’s in, and also some scenes that explore her, er, relationship with Jett, but by-and-large the film is a brief chronicle of the rise and fall of the band’s lead singer. And that’d be perfectly fine too – but like Jett’s story, one can’t help but feel there’s a lot they’re still not telling us.
Commentary by the actors and – welcomingly! – Joan Jett; it’s a wonderfully insightful and entertaining track. There’s also a couple of featurettes on the film.