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The Runaways

Film Three Stars
If I cast my mind back I don't really know who the Runaways were, but I do know about two of the members, Lita Ford and Joan Jett. Ford was a young crush of mine whereas Jett was someone I learned about later in life, but I still didn't know a lot about their beginnings as the first all-girl rock band The Runaways.

I'm sure that's a common place for a lot of people approaching the film, a knowledge of one or two of the big named stars but not of the group The Runaways. Of course there are the fans of the band that this film will appeal to, and obviously the fans of Kristen Stewart who will be clambering to see her after her Twilight films.

One interesting aspect of the film is that it does try to please every one of these groups, from adults to the teenage fans coming from Twilight, and because of that it does water down the content somewhat. However, The Runaways is still a good film and might just find fans in all of the groups it's trying to appeal to.

Plot.pngThe Runaways was the first all-girl rock band to become hugely successful, playing stadium gigs alongside the male bands who dominated the business, but this film isn't about the stadium days, it's about the beginning of the band, the relationship between Joan Jett and the lead singer Cherie Currie, and a good measure of the man behind the band, Kim Fowley.

Fowley was a well known record producer at the time, and Jett was just learning to play the electric guitar, something that itself was frowned upon and seen as a male only pursuit. She cornered him at a club and he happened to know a female drummer, and suddenly they were pulling together a band.

Practising in a caravan, playing small gigs around the country, earning next to nothing, the girls keep hammering away at their dream, but all the time the excesses of a rock and roll life were becoming more and more a part of their everyday lives, especially Currie's and Jett's, until it destroys the relationship between Currie and the band.

TheFilm.pngTheRunaways.jpgWhile the story is a good one, there are a couple of issues I had with it. The first is the fact that it's based on a book written by Cherie Currie herself, and so it looks like we're watching a somewhat one sided view. Now while I'm not saying that the view is wrong, but it's most definitely going to be biased. interestingly Joan Jett is credited as an executive producer, so perhaps she had enough influence over the script and events to make it much more evenly matched, I'm not sure.

The second is the tone of the film. Now considering we're looking at a story about under-age girls who begin a very public career in rock and roll, go on the road, are exposed to sex and drugs and take them up readily, the film is decidedly tame, or rather light. It gets worse when you read the real story by Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, which according to Wikipedia:

"...revolves around her dysfunctional family, her struggles with drugs and alcohol, sexual abuse and her days with The Runaways."

That sounds a lot more deeper and darker than the film presents.

I was really surprised that the views of drug taking and sex were treated in such a light and entertaining way. Of course I understand the need to make these things light in order to obtain a lower rating and reach the right audience, but again let's consider what this film is about, it's the downward slide of Currie through her own personal problems, flung into the limelight and the effect this, and the drugs she began taking, had on her and the other band members. Now to me those kind of issues sound pretty serious and deserve quite a bit of attention, however they aren't given that opportunity.

These issues are shown as easy for the characters to get into and without much recrimination when getting through them. When they are shown as being out of control it isn't presented with any great weight and the after effects for them and others seem negligible. For me this was a part of the film was was missing, it needed more weight, more impact, and I'm sure in real life they did.

However that doesn't mean that the film doesn't have some stronger moments. Two of these that stick out for me were when Currie is visiting her sick father and her sister who has been left behind to look after him, and when the band have their big falling out in the studio, marking the end of the group's line-up. At least with this scene we're really seeing some hard effects on Currie.

In the end it does feel a little like they've lightened the tone of the film either to match a demographic rating and/or to ensure that they don't go too far away from the audience base for Stewart. Whatever the reason the film definitely feels drama light and I'm sure in real life it was much more serious and carried more impact than it was portrayed.

This is something that I felt again at the ending of the film when we see where the characters are now. The subtitled "where they are now/ended up" seem to cover a lot of ground for the other band members and miss out a big part of Currie's story which in one line we're told includes another downward spiral and recovery.

I do wonder whether the film should have concentrated more on the story of the band as a whole rather than focusing on Currie and Jett, after all the film is entitled The Runaways and included others such as Lita Ford who went onto more success. It's also interesting to note that the film feels like it's telling more of Jett's story than of Currie's, after all Jett bookends the film and introduces us to Currie as well as says goodbye to her. She is the constant throughout the story.

One last thing about the film that I thought it had failed to capture were the size of the bigger band performances. Perhaps this was because the cost to bring them to the screen was just too much, perhaps it just wasn't a consideration, I don't know. What I do know is the size of these performances was a little lost and like other aspects of the film could have been given a little more focus, after all we're talking about an all-girl rock band that became a huge stadium band.

Despite that though the film is enjoyable, and while it not have that dramatic depth, it does entertain. The relationship between Jett and Currie is interesting to watch, and it's fair to say that both Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning gave good performances, in fact more than that, I really enjoyed their performances and I think that Stewart did a great job playing Jett. Fanning had the best transformation though, remembering her not so long ago as a child actress this was quite a surprise, although not unexpected.

Stewart was definitely trying to shed the image of the Twilfeenies as she played the hard character with a bit more bravado and confidence than her Twilf character, added to that she continually smoked, took drugs and engaged in a bit of lesbian kissing, there's even one scene where we see her naked, albeit from underwater and below in shadow. It's definitely a move to shrug off her image to date, and I actually think it's a good move and one that worked.

Michael Shannon was perhaps the best of the film though, his performance as the slightly bizarre and very manipulative record producer was really enjoyable and he had a good few opportunities to really go to town with the character. It works well and his character is presented with a number of angles - the manipulative business man, a sleazy character out to exploit the girls for something more than money, the uncaring "in it for the money" at any cost character, and the flamboyant character interested only in himself - his performance was funny, creepy and just down right weird.

The music was good through the film and the visuals tying the songs in worked well, but what caught me the most about the music were the performances from the actresses. They were raw, filled with energy, and sounded great - I believe they actually sang the songs used in the film, and that's what you felt from watching the film.

Overall.pngI enjoyed The Runaways, although it doesn't delve as deeply into the characters and their stories as much I'd like or the true story demands, and it concentrated on only two members of the band. It was enjoyable, funny, entertaining and the musical performances were strong, perhaps because the actresses were performing them for real.

Shannon, Stewart and Fanning were all good choices for their roles and without them I don't think the stories would have been so engaging. Stewart is casting off her Twilf image pretty easily here and Fanning has proven that she's grown up and is one damn good actress.

I'm not entirely sure what the film was trying to tell us and wondered if it should have had a better crack at looking deeper into the characters and Cherie's downfall, but although it gave us the lighter version of their stories, it will worked well, even if it does leave out the rest of the band members.

Whether you know who The Runaways are or not, I think you'll enjoy this film.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
UK IMDB Film Details



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