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Despite its potential, “The Runaways” a lot like a cherry bomb

April 13, 2010

I did a very un-Becky thing yesterday and went to see the biopic The Runaways about the first all-girl rock band of the same name.  It was an un-Becky thing to do considering it was rated R (!) and for the following reasons according to the MPAA: language, drug use and sexual content (some of which was same-sex oriented).  But, the not Becky side of me loves some Joan Jett, so off I went to the movies!

The movie starts out as any good girl-power story would, by scaring any of the men in the audience with a demonstration and discussion of a teenage girl’s first experience with menstruation.  Take that, wussies!  From that auspicious opening, the story pretty quickly moved into the same plot we’ve seen in most other rock band-makes-it movies.  Band gets started, takes some hits (both from the public and from various prescription and non-prescription medications) and makes some hits.  Band synergy is threatened when one member becomes more famous (or infamous) than the rest.  You know the rest.

While reading up on the history of The Runaways on Wikipedia would give you a more compelling and fuller narrative of the band’s rise and fall, the movie has a few good moments that make it worth the trip.  Kristen Stewart proved herself to me in this film, taking on as much of Joan Jett as any impersonator could possibly handle and giving Jett the same heart that she has in real life.

The worst part about the movie is that the rock legend Joan Jett story was relatively untold compared to the tale of lead singer Cherie Currie, which is not surprising considering it was based on Currie’s biography.  Dakota Fanning had farther to go in my opinion, and couldn’t quite far enough in portraying a salacious wayward teenager (though she does a darn-fine David Bowie impression).  The parts of the role that seemed the most honest to me were Cherie Currie’s early awkward attempts at toughening up her image so she could front the band.  The rest of the band members were given true back-up status, even to the point of being left out of the closing credits’ “Where are they now” blurbs.

Visually, the film was interesting.  The cinematography varied from the typical to the rockumentary to first-person, drug-dazed blurs.  At times, though it seemed like the artfulness of the filming got in the way of the narrative, preventing us from seeing more of the affection and tension within the band and downplaying the conflicts between the girls and the music industry that sought to deny or define them.

The film sizzled at points, but overall, it fizzled out when it came to serving up the firecracker power and feminine ferocity that The Runaways themselves made famous.  I left the theater thinking this was a good first draft.  Maybe one day, someone will buck up and tell the whole story of these pioneering women.  Let’s just hope Lifetime doesn’t get the rights to it first.

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