Jul 10, 2010
NEW The Runaways AU Review
Attitude goes a long way. That statement actually ends up explaining the short-lived successes of all-girl rock outfit The Runaways as well as that of the titular film. Both had the capacity for greatness but fell short – and if it wasn't for the image and posturing, both would likely be just as forgettable. Instead, the new film from writer/director Floria Sigismondi (who previously worked in and around the music video scene) is stylish, fast and disposable with enough smeared lipstick and running eyeliner to make your typical pop starlet blush.
At the centre of what is essentially a sexed up teen rock-drama are Kristen Stewart, who most teens will recognize for her lead role in the Twilight films, and Dakota Fanning, the doe-eyed blonde child star of just about every horror-thriller in want of a doe-eyed blonde child star.
Fanning finally ditches her precocious and plucky ways with a darker role that may well alter her image permanently. Likewise Stewart portrays rock legend Joan Jett with edge and vitriol as she powers into the spotlight as songwriter and guitarist of The Runaways – a manufactured rock outfit with some actual chops. Fanning falls into the line-up after eccentric slime ball manager Kim Fowley (a wonderfully hammy and flamboyant Michael Shannon) takes a shine to her and puts her vocals to the test.
Naturally, the girls - all on the wrong side of 18 - eventually succumb to the glamour and indulgences of instant stardom; The Runaways does a good job of presenting the downward spiral of Fanning's Cherie Currie, the lead singer who loses control and eventually her grip on reality.
Having an appreciation for the subject matter going into the cinema is something of a requisite for any music-themed movie; not knowing who Joan Jett is or having lived through the Lohan-like nosedive of Cherie Currie might in fact alienate the teen audience for which this film clearly aims. However, in a 'Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains' kind of way, there's a universal accessibility to watching these girls rebel against the status quo (no pun).
That's actually The Runaways' biggest flaw; the first half of the film lays on the rebellion so thickly that it's hard not to scoff every subsequent time producer Fowley drags his band-whelps in line with a 'You're girls! They don't want you to rock!' By the fifth time this is underlined, we started wishing Jett and company would hurry up with the pills and powders and overdosing already – such was the transparency of the self-actualizing prophesy at work in the screenwriting.
When the drugs do start to take control of Currie and company, the direction loosens up and gets a little more interesting; shot with an eye for framing and depth-of-field, the Runaways is awash with smoky reds and earthy browns. The costuming is consciously overdone and perfectly believable in the same stroke, while edits are sharp and playful, keeping musical sequences entertaining, even if the material reminds us of why Joan Jett made it big – but the Runaways faded into obscurity.
However, it's the performances in The Runaways that made for the most memorable moments – a refreshing and surprising result for a director with minimal theatrical experience. Dakota Fanning arguably puts in the most natural performance, displaying a vulnerability and naivety that are both tragic and believable. The interplay between her and her sister, who is well cast but on different levels in terms of line delivery, pales in comparison to scenes between her and Stewart's Jett. Stewart doesn't so much act as exude a dirty presence in every frame; she's charismatic visually, and when she eventually lets go and starts hurling bottles and letting loose, we see the ability she does her best to hide in Twilight.
It's Fanning's lingerie scenes and sexualized image that will sadly overshadow the rest of the film's qualities though; although Currie was famously overexposed during her brief lead-singer tenure, the film really plays these scenes up, sprinkling in a few intimate moments between her and Jett – more to please the lads in the crowd than to make any overt statements we suspect.
Never letting truth get in the way of a good story, The Runaways mixes bubblegum teen drama, classic family frustrations and a ripping pace together with a predictably bittersweet story. At times buying a little too deeply into self-importance, the dialogue doesn't quite match the weight of the performances, but that's also exactly why the band failed too. The Runaways succeeds in being as brash and trashy as the source material, and just as fun.