The Runaways is a tale of woe, but it is also a tale of success. It starts, and then some time passes, and then it ends. Of course, I knew that when I stepped into the theatre. But I was expecting lots of little interesting other bits that would give more than just the bare facts about the Runaways, a mediocre teenage girl band of 1975–76 that quickly imploded.
Sounds interesting, right? Not really? No, it doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? Kind of sounds like probably a pretty common story.
Why did The Runaways fail? You know, drugs and stuff. Relationships too, I guess.
The Runaways were one of the many punk-esque groups who started in the late ‘70s and ended in the late ‘70s. They were OK — nothing to write home about. Nothing to produce a big Hollywood bio-pic over. That could be why The Runaways — the directorial debut of music-video producer Floria Sigismondi — played out as slowly and as unsurprisingly as . . . well, as that stock story where a band becomes successful and then eventually isn’t successful anymore because of the various general properties of rock and roll. In a lot of ways, without the novelty of watching actors who have been popular as children get extremely drunk/stoned/horny, there’s not much left.
The lone aspect of this adventure that makes it stands out from an infinite amount of similar stories is that this band was comprised of teen girls.
Teen girls? Oh, that’s a little bit young for a story like this, isn’t it?
Excellent point! Indeed, it made for an excellent pointless point that the story kept trying to employ to set it apart from other punk bio-pics. The film opens with a desperate attempt to “set the tone” (or, perhaps, just a nod to Twilight fans): a few lustrous rubies of Joanne Jett’s (Kristen Stewart) first-ever period, agleam on the pavement, centre-screen. With this scene, the film brazenly declares, “This film has puberty girls in it.” Actually, the same declaration is dangled in front of the audience without purpose, like an ancient, shriveled scrotum, periodically throughout the entire film.
Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), Mayor of the Sunset Strip and enigmatic producer who has worked with such bands as Kiss, Motley Crew, The Seeds, Guns and Roses, the Germs, The Modern Lovers, etc., etc., is a central character in the story. His “charm” and “wit” are renowned, and are presented here in full effect. Jett wants to start a band and approaches Fowley. Fowley sees the potential for a band of tough 16-year old girls and sets her up with a drummer. They make progress, but need a centerpiece, so they go find Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and, presto: The Runaways. The band becomes popular, and you know the rest.
Fowley is presented as an asshole, but as a sweet-smelling, comfortable kind of an asshole. He calls the girls “dog cunts” often and literally throws dog shit at them while they practice. But he also offers kind words of support and honest, constructive criticism.
There are several other characters in the film, but they don’t matter. The story revolves only around Fowley, Jett and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). And even then, it’s only Currie that has any context to her character. Currie has family troubles — a drunk dad and an angry sister; Jett has a nameless friend who pops up periodically to vaguely allude that she is a lesbian; Fowley seems to have plenty going on. Everybody else is largely ignored.
The film seems content to rest on its laurels while a distilled version of The Runaways’ story is duly carried out. But its greatest failing (or victory, depending on how you look at it) is to accentuate that it was relying on the allure of sexy teens to attract an audience. For example, Jett and Currie have an irrelevant “adult” scene together. The very existence of the scene exposes a lamentable motive of the film: as Fowley would call it, “dogmeat.”
Let’s assume that it was a conscious choice to mirror the marketing-pimp moves of Fowley as a way of creating a more nuanced portrayal of the story. It doesn’t hold up, because the film turns
on Fowley, taking the moral high ground only once the band starts to fall apart.
In a single scene, Fowley is turned from the masterfully sly maverick — really, the comic relief in the story — to a manipulative goon. It might as well be Sigismondi in the scene.
However, the performances, particularly Fanning’s, are quite good. Once the band has long been split up, Currie hears Jett on the radio (interviewed by Rodney Bingenheimer about her solo work) and calls in to chat. The ensuing conversation, or lack thereof, is done well.
As for the film as a whole, I would recommend “running away” if one were to offer a viewing. Hop on a “Jett” out of there. The delivery is a tad “Fowl.”
★★.5 out of ★★★★★