19. The Runaways

Speaking of being perceived a terrible actress…

Kristen Stewart is in this movie. And she’s very good in it, as shocking as that may be to some people. Not that it matters. Despite all of the actors’ best efforts, this movie goes completely off the rails long before we get to the third act.

The Runaways is the story of Joan Jett’s first band, featuring a coquettish young singer named Cherie Currie, played by Dakota Fanning, and ruled over by a domineering, self-absorbed manager named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon).

The movie hits all the notes you think. Jett and Currie are lonely, disconnected teens with a love of music but no real training. They’re assembled into a band together by Fowley, who sees money to be made in a rough-edged punk band with underage sex appeal. They start to hit it big, and then – shockingly – things start happening too fast for all of them!

Drugs! Drinking! Fights! Girl-on-girl sexual tension! Things are spiraling out of control! Who could possibly have seen this coming?

The movie falls into all the same band-movie tropes. The slow descent into a hazy, strung-out, drug-obsessed life happens with the same slow, somber beats you’d expect, until the characters are simply stumbling unhappily from scene to scene.  For most of the film, the only time any life is injected into the film is when Shannon barrels onto the screen, waving his arms and gleefully chewing the scenery.  

Stewart, Shannon and Fanning are all excellent in the film – Shannon in particular is fantastic – but I’m most struck by Fanning’s performance in the film, though not for the right reasons. The Runaways focuses heavily on the sexualization of Cherie Currie, a petite 15-year-old girl, who Fowley dresses in the most skimpy of lingerie and constantly pushes her to act as lewdly as possible. It’s a sad example to see on film, but the part is played by Fanning, who was only fifteen herself when she played the role. Scenes featuring her acting lasciviously are stretched out, and the camera lingers over her young form. The line between portraying underage sexuality and taking part in it blurs, and seems to disappear entirely. In many ways, it’s a more disturbing role than her more famous one in Hounddog.

Instead of watching the story of Joan Jett’s rise to rock stardom, instead the film slowly collapses into an aimless exercise in Rock Bio 101. We end up with a few great scenes surrounded by a pile of predictable fluff.