Big Jim Reviews The Runaways


Biopics are a tricky species because a person with an interesting background or story doesn't necessarily have a cinematically interesting one. Life doesn't exactly play out like a movie and interesting events rarely have a three act structure. That isn't to say that they are all bad or lacking, just difficult. What normally happens is either compositing of characters, combining different events into one more dramatic event, or creating scenes that never happened in order to make that story to work better as a screen story.

Like all other types of movies some of these work beautifully, others don't work at all, and the vast majority fall somewhere in the middle. That middle ground is where you find "The Runaways," Floria Sigismund's feature debut film about the 1970's all girl punk/rock band of the same name. What you have here is a fantastic looking, well acted film that ultimately feels hollow and somewhat superficial.

This film presents a particularly difficult challenge as The Runaways were only a band for four years and when they disbanded the oldest member was 21. But the possibilities are equal to that challenge. The music business is brutal even for the most seasoned professionals, but for a group of children with essentially no parental guidance that brutality is amplified to disastrous levels.

At the end of this film I found myself not knowing much more about these people than I did beforehand, and I didn't know much. Basically, this movie is as much about The Runaways as Oliver Stone's film "The Doors," was about The Doors. Yeah, the other members are there, but that was The Jim Morrison story.

This film, in reality, about the relationship between Cherie Currie (the vocalist and front woman), and Joan Jett (guitarist and singer). Drummer Sandy West, played by Stella Maeve in a strong performance, initially looks like she will be a major part of the show ends up sidelined quickly. Bassist "Robin," played by Alia Shawkat (who played Maeby on "Arrested Development") not only doesn't exist (she is somewhat based on Jackie Fox), but doesn't speak, but her performance isn't bad, as she does appear to know how to play bass. Even Lita Ford, who went on to a major recording career (I mean, she recorded a song with Ozzy and got equal billing for God's sake!) is relegated to the "member of the band most pissed at the lead singer for all the attention she's getting" role, which is unfortunate, not only because of how important Lita would be as a female figure in rock for years to come, but because Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty good at what she does get to do and it would have been nice to see her do more.

Basically, this is the Joan and Cherie show, which causes a lot of the weakness. By focusing on these two instead of the band as a unit you never really get a sense of closeness, of how the music brought these lost young women together and made a family out of them. Because of this most of the interactions felt very hollow and lacking.

There was no punch to the goings on because I didn't feel any real connection between the characters. Joan and Cherie come together both emotionally and physically, but their relationship doesn't have any weight or gravity. You know their families are screwed up, but you don't get the feeling that they are using each other to replace that family. I wanted more depth.

The family dynamics, such as they are, are portrayed through Cherie and her sister Marie, but even that has some confusion. The two are twin sisters in real life, but are played by actresses who are 5 years apart in age, and that makes the beginning scenes between them feel strange and out of place.

There are some real strengths here. There was a flow, and it looked fantastic. I didn't have as much of a problem with what was on the screen as I did with what was left off. The development of the characters and their relationships was almost non existent and played more like watching caricatures than real characters.

Sigismondi is a highly accomplished music video director and it shows. The aesthetics of this film are amazing. Her camera work is incredible and her choice of soundtrack are brilliant. She is also able to get outstanding performances from her actors.

Dakota Fanning's turn as lead singer Cherie Carrie is, as we have come to expect from Fanning, exceptional. She does an outstanding job of capturing a young woman lost in transition with no mooring. Kristen Stewart gives one of the best performances in the film. She is kind of like a guitarist who only knows two chords, not great unless the song you're playing only requires those two chords. Not that Joan Jett is a two dimensional character, but Stewart's presence is perfect for the young punk rock icon who doesn't just love the music, she NEEDS the music and nothing else.

Michael Shannon steals the show as Kim Fowley. I haven't seen him in much else that I am aware of, but now I want to. The creepy sexuality, while not really being sexual being that he creates is fully realized and completely natural and believable. He somehow is able to pull off very graphic sexual talk with a group of 15 year old girls without coming off as a deviant. He realizes that the business of rock and roll is the business of sexuality and even though it is a group of 15 year old girls, he never really comes off as a pedophile because to him sex is business. He isn't a mentor in the classic sense. His concern is purely selfish, he wants money. He isn't there to help the girls find themselves so they can live better lives, he sees them as a paycheck and is up front about it.

In the end, what you have here is a movie that could and should have been a lot better. It's a little girl lost tale that could have been more. I guess I wanted to see the girls find each other, only to be pulled apart by the gravity of their own lives, and how difficult it is to control that when you have no foundation to build on.


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