Half of me wasn’t looking forward to The Runaways and half of me was. It was, after all, a biopic about the band that kickstarted things for Joan Jett (who went on to have a couple of big hits with her band The Blackhearts) and details the early, turbulent years spent bringing some girl power to the world of rock. But it had Kristen Stewart playing Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, neither actress being one of my favourites. A lot could go right or a lot could go wrong. It wasn’t too far into the film when I realised that it was the latter option I now had to endure for over 90 minutes.
The frustrating thing about The Runaways is how wasted an opportunity it all seems. There’s no real edge to anything and no real purpose to it. The story seems sanitised and cleaned out of anything majorly controversial. The rise of a woman up to the ranks of the top rockers was already done by Suzi Quatro, even mentioned by the characters in the movie, so that whole story strand about overcoming the odds to make it in a male-dominated world loses it’s effectiveness when we start to feel as if we’re watching the second-place competitors as opposed to the forerunner.
The direction by Floria Sigismondi, who also wrote the screenplay based on the book by Cherie Currie, lacks any of the energy and style you’d expect from someone with her background in music videos. Whenever there’s a chance for the whole thing to “rock out” it seems as if the adults just give a little taster to keep us kids happy before going back to more serious, yet mundane, matters.
Then we have the acting. Someone obviously told Kristen Stewart that wearing leather trousers, chewing gum and smoking would absolutely transform her into a rock star. It doesn’t. Dakota Fanning does no better but at least the two leads get time to make an impression, which is more than can be said for the rest of the band (I never even noticed that Scout Taylor-Compton was in this). When the girls are all performing together and trying to growl through their songs things become, frankly, embarrassing and every other scene makes you cringe as the little girls play dress-up and attempt some pitiful attitude.
There is a highlight and that comes in the form of Michael Shannon. Fortunately, he lights up every scene he’s in, playing manager/PR guru/showman Kim Fowley with a great mix of energy, cool and slight camp. It was thanks to Shannon’s performance that I was able to get through the movie to the very end. I’d also better mention Riley Keough, who was quite wonderful as the sister of Cherie Currie, a young girl who didn’t support her sister’s dreams and was stuck regretting it while the good times rolled.
This is not a good movie in any way. The acting is generally poor, it’s got nothing new or interesting to say and it even fails to entertain in the most simple, toe-tapping way that any decent rock/pop biopic can do. My personal rating is a generous one.
DIRECTOR: FLORIA SIGISMONDI
STARS: KRISTEN STEWART, DAKOTA FANNING, MICHAEL SHANNON, SCOUT TAYLOR-COMPTON, RILEY KEOUGH
RUNTIME: 106 MINS APPROX