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The Runaways (2010) **

March 20, 2010

Written by: Floria Sigismondi

Produced by: David Grace, Art Linson, John Linson and William Pohlad

Directed by: Floria Sigismondi

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content – all involving teens

109 min.

U.S. Release Date: March 19, 2010

Veteran music video director Floria Sigismondi’s “The Runaways” tells the story of the rise of the teen girl rock band led by Cherie Currie and Joan Jett.  Shot in vintage Super 16 film stock, the look of the film immediately places the viewer in the era of bell-bottoms, feathered hair and male dominated rock and roll as The Runaways try to find their way to the top of the charts.  In the world of the “biopic” genre, the good films focus on one piece of the subject’s life or a single reoccurring theme that is woven throughout their life or career.  The least successful biopics act as a survey or a 101 course of the subject’s life, which results in a shallow look into the story.  Which side of the coin does “The Runaways” land on?

It’s 1975 in Los Angeles, and eccentric record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) is on the prowl for up-and-coming musical acts to escort to the top.  One night at a local club, a young Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) approaches Fowley and tells him that she is an electric guitar player that wants to start an all girl rock band.  After giving it some thought, Fowley is completely on-board and starts looking for ladies.  It only takes one lap around the club for the two to meet a 15-year old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), the flirtatious front woman they are looking for.

In no time at all, a five-piece all female teen rock group is complete and The Runaways are born.  They practice in a small trailer in “the valley” to hone their skills and write songs as they work on their attitude and style.  After months of tireless practice, The Runaways are ready to play some local shows.  After local shows comes the next logical solution, a record deal (from Mercury Records, in this case).  The remainder of the film documents the meteoric rise of the band on a global level, as well as their fall back to earth.  The film shows scenes from all of the band’s career highlights, and a few more intimate scenes, all of which should satisfy hardcore fans.

Unfortunately, fans of The Runaways may be the only ones who are greatly entertained by this film.  The movie plays like a 109 minute long Sportscenter highlight reel of The Runaways time as a band without anything in between.  As a non-fan (not that I don’t like them, I’m just not an enthusiast), “The Runaways” gave me no additional insights into the members of the band as people, and also failed to provide a sense of chronology over the course of the story arch.  From scene to scene, there was no caption that told me the year or the location of the scene, and there I became lost as a viewer.  There were certain scenes were it was obvious that a significant amount of time had passed, but there were no visible changes in the cast members’ looks or signs of the passage of time, which made it incredibly disorienting and difficult to follow.

Unless you are a loyal fan of The Runaways or Joan Jett and the Black Hearts, you may find this film to be a mess to follow (and even then, you may find that the film didn’t stick very close to the real story, judging by my post-viewing research).  Sigismondi is used to directing short music videos, and it shows.  In the long format, she fails to tie the three acts together in a cohesive way.  Instead of having a sense of history with the characters at the end of the film, it felt like only a couple of months had passed and it was impossible to feel close to the characters, who had gone through a lot together.

Overall, Sigismondi puts together a very stylish long-form music video that looks like it came from the 70s… in a good way.  The main roles are acted very well (Fanning because she’s a great actress, and Stewart because the part suits her persona), and the film entertains to a degree.  However, if you are looking to learn a lot from this biopic, you may find yourself disappointed.

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