Movie Review: The Runaways

2010 – 107mn – 15 Directed by Floria Sigismondi. Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon.

THE Runaways is, as the name indicates, a film about the 70s girl band the Runaways. Led by teenagers Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and put together by seedy producer and impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), the band – aggressively sexual and visually confrontational – paved the way for female artists of the future. But their career lasted only four years, as the teenage girls were torn apart by jealousy and Cherie’s spiraling drug addiction.

It sounds like the film should be great fun – but it isn’t, because it never actually tries to tell you a story. The litmus test for a biopic is whether the action on screen would be interesting even if the people portrayed weren’t famous. The action on screen in the Runaways isn’t interesting even with the famous names. The filmmakers never try to make these characters interesting people; they assume that because they’re Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, they’re interesting in themselves. Joan is tough and angry and rock ‘n’ roll makes her less angry. Why or how is never explored. Cherie is a slapper – we get the obligatory absent dad to motivate it, but that’s it. They both start off completely unable to sing or play music then halfway through the film they’re suddenly amazing at both.

We’re never shown much context, and we’re shown absolutely no small moments of humanity or insight (it doesn’t help that for all their influence Joan Jett and Cherie Currie are, to be fair, minor rock stars, with clich�d journeys and only three good songs in their catalogue).

Writer-director Floria Sigismondi is a photographer and music video director, and it shows. Every scene is filmed like an artsy video or photo, and she’s not concerned with how they connect with one another. Her interest in the Runaways is purely aesthetic.

Kristen Stewart is a dead ringer for Jett, and plays her very well. She still doesn’t smile much (she is, after all, Kristen Stewart), but she holds the screen. Michael Shannon is fantastic as the rude, repulsive, egocentric impresario Kim Fowley, who discovers and manages the band. Dakota Fanning, however, is nails-on-a-chalkboard dreadful. She has none of Currie’s disturbing sexiness, none of her indelible mix of aggression and desperation. She looks like an eight-year-old playing with her mum’s lingerie and high heels, enacting emotions she has no experience of. Fanning doesn’t feel like she’s lived. She stares and she pouts and she blanks out and there’s absolutely nothing under the surface. In that sense, she’s a very apt embodiment of the movie.

WALTER NICHOLS

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1/5 STARS

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