Boy, I wish I had a lot to say about The Runaways. It was an interesting time, and I certainly enjoyed it. But what can one really say about it? Writer-director Floria Sigismondi and her creative team certainly do an effective job of evoking a time and mood. It really feels like a down-and-dirty 1970s rock 'n' roll party, and that much is certainly appreciated. Too many biopics have a sheen to them; The Runaways, partly due to Benoit Debie's cinematography and partly due to the low budget, is refreshingly gritty and sometimes experimental.
The title's misleading, though. This isn't about the band, really, but Cherie Currie, drawing as it does from her autobiography Neon Angel. Even co-lead Joan Jett is given short shrift narratively speaking, though Kristen Stewart is fantastic in the role. Scout Taylor-Compton's Lita Ford has one note, namely, "Man, fuck Cherie, we don't need her, man!" Alia Shawkat plays "Robin", a stand-in for the five or six bassists that came and went; despite her third billing, she is relegated to the background and has ZERO lines. Co-founder/drummer Sandy West, played beautifully by Stella Maeve, is relegated to almost a footnote.
Instead, we get Dakota Fanning's self-conscious, mannered performance as Cherie, a storyline that seems interesting in theory but surprisingly does not really go anywhere. We all know Fanning is one of those genius child actors that are already little adults, but it's always been a detriment to her performances. Like Kate Hepburn said of Meryl Streep, you can see the wheels turning, "Click, click, click." She's not bad, but she's not natural, either. Kristen Stewart also comes in danger of this in some portions, but mercifully Sigismondi gets her to abandon her tics in favor of an actual performance.
If only the movie had gotten into the full story. The Runaways, after all, lasted from 1975 to 1979, and Currie was only there for a little less than two years. It feels weird; like manager Kim Fowley, the filmmakers are keen to oversell the jailbait lead singer rather than look at the band as a whole. And while that's fine, why call it The Runaways? Why not just call it Cherry Bomb or Neon Angel? Naming the film after the band gives me the impression that it's going to be about the whole band.
By the way, I've not yet mentioned the best part of the whole film, Michael Shannon's deliciously bent performance as Kim Fowley. Campy, creepy and cutthroat, Fowley is a force to be reckoned with. When he's on screen, there's an energy that the rest of the film lacks. He plays like Gerrit Graham's Beef in Phantom of the Paradise, only one that you can't believe actually existed. Let this be the role They remember come January, for if he can get honors for phoning it in in Revolutionary Road, surely a truly inspired performance such as this should not be ignored.
Surprisingly, despite the problems with the narrative, it's still a good movie. It's not a masterpiece, but it's interesting and palatable, and I'd definitely see it again. I'd probably even buy it. Why not? The directing is spellbinding, the cinematography is mood-perfect, the music is kick-ass, and the performances by Stewart and Shannon beg to be revisited. Give it a shot.