I love rock’n’roll movies and particularly 70s nostalgia (don’t miss Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine). Revisiting the history of female rock stars, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, in The Runaways featuring Dakota Fanning as glam, Bowie-loving Currie and Kristen Stewart as butch punk Jett was fun and made me want to turn up the juke box, baby! Based on the book ‘Neon Angel’ by Currie, The Runaways showcases the rise and fall of a band of anorexic adolescent chicks who just wanted to play rock’n’roll like bad boys Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols.
I wasn’t a fan of The Runaways and didn’t know about them until after Joan Jett made it big with her classic hit ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’, but the first thing I noticed about both lead characters is their almost complete lack of emotion throughout much of the film. The girls look great in character (Stewart & Fanning are considerably more attractive than the original duo) but the personalities of both Currie and Jett are as one dimensional as the celluloid they’re presented on. Stewart and Fanning are two talented young actors who have given much more interesting performances in other films so I can only assume that the fault lies with the director. Of the pair, Stewart shines when she finally lets go and spews forth the passion Jett has for music, but Fanning barely cracks a smile throughout the entire movie as her character is stoned for most of it. Her defining moment is her rendition of ‘Cherry Bomb’ in Japan.
These lesbian lovers were clueless about the music industry and seriously manipulated by their scary glam manager, Kim Fowley, played with sharp, bared teeth by the gifted Michael Shannon. The Runaways didn’t have a lot of talent but they had attitude and the right look for Fowley’s sleazy marketing campaign. The annoying, sinister Fowley meets Joan Jett who wants to start an all-girl band. He introduces her to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and together they scour LA nightclubs looking for the next young Bridget Bardot look-a-like to front the band. They find Currie at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco and later hook up with Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) who was the best musician in the band. The rest is history although we know nothing about West, Ford or Jackie Fox (‘Robin’ in the movie) as there was little to no cooperation from them in the making of this movie which was executive produced by Jett (who surprisingly adds nothing in the way of special features on the DVD).
As The Runaways developed as artists – signing a contract with Mercury Records to play rock’n’roll in a man’s world and landing a hit single with ‘Cherry Bomb’ – the conflict with Fowley grew. He believed that they owed all of their success to him and were simply his employees but plagued by family drama and the pressures of rock stardom, Currie soon reached the end of her rope and told him where to go. Jett and Currie inevitably lived the sex, drugs & rock’n’roll cliché and Currie in particular paid the price as she fell heavily into an alcohol and drug-hazed world. At 17-years-old, Currie was already a burnt out has-been. In real life, she is now a chainsaw artist.
Director Floria Sigismondi captures the look and sound of the 70s and a cool soundtrack features songs by Nick Gilder, Suzi Quatro, The Stooges, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, and respectable performances by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as well as the original Runaways and Joan Jett. However, neither Cherie Currie nor Joan Jett were or are great rock vocalists and The Runaways only lasted for a couple of years (1975-1977), finding their greatest success in Japan.
Of note is the solid film debut of Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough as Marie Currie, and a brief cameo by Tatum O’Neal as Currie’s actress mother.
The DVD has few special features but includes a brief but interesting making-of-the-film vignette with the principal members of the cast, filmmakers, and Cherie Currie.
The Runaways was made with Joan Jett’s blessing and Jett and The Blackhearts deserve their place in rock’n’roll history, for having the passion, persistence and balls to realize their own vision. For Jett, The Runaways was only a brief blip on the radar of her career, but for Currie, it was her 15 minutes of fame.