Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review: Acting is "The Runaways'" Driving Beat

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 62 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Runaways (2010)
Running time: 107 minutes (1 hour, 47 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, drug use and sexual content - all involving teens
DIRECTOR: Floria Sigismondi
WRITER: Floria Sigismondi (based upon the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story by Cherie Currie)
PRODUCERS: Art Linson, John Linson, and William Pohlad
EDITOR: Richard Chew


Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Johnny Lewis, Tatum O’Neal, Brett Cullen, and Hannah Marks

The Runaways was an all-girl, teenage rock band, active from 1975 to 1979. The band’s membership included, among others, musicians Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie. The 2010 film, The Runaways is a fictionalized account of the band’s formation in 1975 with an emphasis on Currie and Jett’s relationship until Currie left The Runaways. The film is also part biopic as it is based upon Currie’s 1989 book about her teen years, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway (co-written with Tony O’Neill).

The movie opens by introducing two rebellious Southern California teens. First is Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), the product of a dysfunctional home; she spends a lot of time with her sister, Marie (Riley Keough), going to parties and getting wasted. The second is tomboyish Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) who plays guitar and is trying to form an all-girl rock band when she meets rock producer and impresario, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Impressed by Joan and interested in her idea, Kim begins to work with Joan to put a band together. During their search, they encounter Cherie, the hot blonde type that Kim believes the band needs

Under Kim’s Svengali-like influence the group, known as The Runaways, quickly becomes a success. The band’s raw musical talent, tough-chick image, and edgy performances earn them a growing following that spreads beyond America’s shores. However, a tour to Japan only exacerbates both the growing tensions within the group and Cherie’s drug abuse.

The Runaways has plenty of the things that every rock biographical movie needs: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Writer/director Floria Sigismondi (known for directing music videos) depicts the power of sex, the danger of drugs, and the voltage of rock ‘n’ roll with the grit and decadence of the 1970s as the backdrop. Sigismondi even gives this movie one unforgettable rock ‘n’ roll moment – a music video-like sequence in which the movie version of The Runaways perform the real band’s signature hit, “Cherry Bomb.” Sigismondi captures her five young actresses conjuring the rowdy charm that made The Runaways a hit.

The film also has something that only the best biographical films have – wall-to-wall great acting. Dakota Fanning gives a layered, textured performance as the deeply troubled and pill-addicted Cherie, and one can only hope that if Fanning doesn’t flame out like the real Cherie Currie, the young actress will have a long career full of excellent performances.

Kristen Stewart’s performance as Joan Jett is about trading off moments of overacting with moments of high quality acting, but throughout this movie, she has the kind of screen presence for which many actors would sell their souls. Michael Shannon is blistering as Kim Fowley, mixing bullying tactics and charisma to create a character who could sell water to Aquaman. Scout Taylor-Compton makes the most of small part as lead guitarist Lita Ford in way that makes me wish the character had more screen time.

This movie is really a quick overview of the creation of The Runaways and their rise and fall, so the story always feels as if it has left out something big. The character development is anemic, but the actors’ excellent performances bring the characters to life anyway. All the actors, but especially Fanning, Stewart, and Shannon, have so bought into their characters that they make The Runaways electric and engrossing.

7 of 10

Saturday, August 07, 2010


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