The Runaways (***)

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The Runaways.  106 mins.  R.  Written and  Directed by Florio Sigismondi.  Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Scout Tyler-Compton, Stella Maeve, Alia Shawkat, and  Michael Shannon.

 

Like a really good song that wears out its welcome by repeating the same chorus we've already heard a hundred times before (here's lookin' at you Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name"), The Runaways starts strong but loses momentum by indulging in almost every rock biopic cliche. 

Tracking the rapid rise and fall of the first all-girl punk rock band, The Runaways doesn't stray far from the time-honored formula of sex (some of it girl-on-girl), drugs, family neglect, ego, and, of course, rock 'n roll.  That's not to say the movie is without merit.  The acting is dynamite here.  For once, I actually enjoyed Kristen Stewart's performance (unlike every other role she's had of late).  As Joan Jett, Stewart nails the slouch, the tomboy/anti-authority demeanor, and yes, the guitar-playing.  Matching her in the acting department, and just as surprisingly good, is good girl gone bad Dakota Fanning, as bombshell lead singer Cherie Currie.  Fanning has the lead role here, as Currie gets almost all of the movie's backstory.  Fitting I guess since writer-director Florio Sigismondi based the movie on Currie's book.  Both actresses do their own singing, and are convincingly bad-ass.  The musical sequences rock.  Even better is Revolutionary Road's Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon, as the maniacial, F-bomb spewing music producer/band manager Kim Fowley. The Runaways is at its best, and crudest, when Fowley is training the girls to rock out and ignore all the sexist barbs (and dog poop!) that will be flung their way. 

Sigismondi has a nice touch behind the camera and the cinematography by Benoit Debie convincingly captures the '70s texture.  Too bad the script lets everyone down in the end.  By focusing so heavily on Currie's drug problems and home life, The Runaways lacks any real insight into the band itself.  That's a shame considering that Jett is an executive producer.  The other three band members are given extremely short shrift and don't even register as characters.  Sigismondi also fails to convey the band's rising fame - apart from an extended sequence in Japan, audience members unfamiliar with The Runaways' history won't understand how they got so big.  One minute they're playing in a house, the next they're touring in Japan, inspiring a wave of hysteria not unlike The Beatles. 

The Runaways (the band) certainly deserve a shout-out for inspiring female musicians everywhere, but maybe their story isn't worth telling.  This is not the first time we've seen a band come undone by drug addiction and egomania, and it certainly won't be the last.  Still, there has to be an inventive way to tell that story.  The Runaways, for all its acting successes, is not the film to do it.

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