Film, 2010, 3.5 stars
Written and Directed: Floria Sigismondi
As with many things that you build up in your head, the reality sometimes falls short, and thus it was with The Runaways which, despite all my built-up expectations, turned out to be a good film but not a great one, for many different reasons.
The Runaways follows the band’s story from the perspective of Cherie Currie, on whose biography this film is based. So it is essentially the story of Currie and Joan Jett, not the band as a whole. (Poor, wasted Alia Shawcat! Did she have more than three lines in this thankless role?). The film covers the period from the formation of The Runaways, through to their breakup and the launch of Joan Jett’s solo career.
Dakota Fanning (as Currie) and Kristen Stewart (as Jett) really grabbed onto these roles with both hands and shook them for all they were worth. Cherie Currie and Joan Jett are biopic roles of a lifetime, and both of these young women gave stand-out performances that were hampered only by the fact that they happened in a flawed film.
The music was awesome - every bit as rocking and powerful as I remembered from the recordings, and Dakota Fanning managed to scream out a really excellent version of “Cherry Bomb” which did justice to the original.
The screenplay was probably tough to write, given the extraordinary depth and breadth of material available in Currie’s book – some of which I was extremely disappointed to see left out, but this is the film and not real life. The writer really nailed it in some places, and really failed in others. Like the girls’ lives, the screenplay was a rollercoaster of lows and highs.
What really sucked, I’m sorry to say, was the direction. It takes talent to grab all those disparate elements and really get the mood and pacing right in any film, much less a rock and roll film, but this director just didn’t get there.
Writer/Director Floria Sigismondi is better known as a video clip director, and that shows here. The onstage moments really rocked, and the jittery camera work helped to translate the frenetic heat of their live performances to the screen. But the dramatic moments that need a deft hand lacked depth and emotion. They were rushed and sacrificed in favour of the drugged out haze, and the energy of performance.
Even the much-touted sex scene (added in for shock effect presumably as it is not in the book) suffers. Camera work and subtlety are the keys to a good sex scene, and this lacked both. The fact that Fanning and Stewart had their respective characters’ mannerisms down to a fine art was largely lost as the film rushes through all their chances to really show that off. They show off their booty pretty well (which I am waaaay too old to be able to write more about - sorry!), but not their characters.
As an ode to rock and roll, this is good stuff, and it treats the work and lives of Currie and Jett with a great deal of respect, as you would want if you were a fan. Like her other non-Twilight work, The Runaways also certainly hints at the kind of range Stewart is capable of. I can’t wait to see her take some really excellent lead material and knock it out of the park.
So really, this is a film of the good, the bad and the really really ugly. Michael Shannon (playing Kim Fowley, The Runaways' manager and mentor) provides most of the ugly. His svengali-like turn really showcased the worst of everything in humanity, and he was toned down from what was actually in Currie’s biography.
It was really such a shame to see something that could have been so great kind of utterly mishandled. As it is, I would highly recommend people see it because the film rocks along, has some great scenes and fantastic music. However, watch it expecting all the mistakes you’d expect of a first time director. Swallow your disappointment at the lack of emotional range the characters are allowed in the film, and simply rock out.