The Runaways (with Kristen Stewart)
We’ve seen numerous music biographies over the years, covering all genres from country to hardcore rap music. Most musicians worthy enough to have a film typically fall into a pattern that includes a fast rise to the top, the inevitable drug addiction, the meteoric fall and then they finally find themselves as true musicians. So for the music bios going forward, it’s important to add something to the film that audiences haven’t seen and covering the standard elements just isn’t enough anymore. Unfortunately, THE RUNAWAYS focused too heavily on elements we’ve already seen a dozen times before and shied away from the aspects we wanted more of.
The year is 1975 and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) are two young, lost souls, desperate for something other than what their average lives can give them. Through a series of all too convenient events, Joan Jett winds up with music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who teams her up with Cherie Currie to form the band The Runaways. After quickly writing the song “Cherry Bomb”, the band sets off on a tour, signs a record deal, discovers drugs and breaks up.
There are a lot of things going on in the film and a lot of relationships that come together during the band’s short lifespan. But by far and away the most fascinating relationship was that of Joan and Cherie. They started as band mates, then became best friends, then maybe lovers, then distant acquaintances. Unfortunately, the film didn’t focus on their relationship nearly enough. I wanted to follow them and learn more about their music and how it came to be. I also felt that the fact Cherie was only 16 years old was a huge deal, but her age never seemed to be an issue to anyone else. What the movie did focus on was Cherie Currie and her drug use. We didn’t learn why she used drugs or the extent to which drugs ruined her life, but we saw her take the drugs and then walk around stoned. We also saw the band break up, but the scene was so anti-climatic, I was left confused as to why Cherie actually left. I cared less about the drugs and more about the band.
I feel like I’m being hard on the film, so I don’t want to underscore the amazing performance by Dakota Fanning. If there was any question as to whether or not she could make the transition from child star to adult A-lister, rest assured that she is here to stay. She gives another incredible performance and between her and Michael Shannon, these were two of the best performances we’ve seen in a while. As for Kristen Stewart, it wasn’t her best performance, but part of that was the script in that it didn’t really focus on Joan Jett that much. The heart of the film was Cherie Currie.
At the end of the day, I think most audiences will get something out of THE RUNAWAYS, but probably not as much as you want. It has some great performances and some good music, but the really juicy aspects of the story are glossed over and too much attention is given to the drug use. Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many music bios with drug addicted musicians and the shock value isn’t there anymore. But to be fair, I did download “Cherry Bomb” when I got back from the theater.