The usual framing perspective of drugs and sex and rock ‘n’ roll tales gets a kick in the pants with The Runaways, a boozy, pungent, femme-centric coming-of-age flick that chiefly connects courtesy of a nervy, burgeoning adult performance by Kristen Stewart, and a smart, economical sense of period style.
Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, the music-fueled film is a nervy, nervous piece of celluloid-captured acting out — a flick for fans of Garage Days, Lords of Dogtown, SLC Punk! and
Almost Famous, peddling the true story of the groundbreaking, all-girl 1970s rock band of the same name. Set in Los Angeles, it revolves mostly around two valley-girl teenage misfits, paint-huffing guitarist Joan Jett (Stewart, above left) and recruited lead singer/sex kitten Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who bloom under the Svengali-like influence of outlandish impresario Kim Fowley (Revolutionary Road‘s Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon). With their tough-chick image and punchy, unvarnished talent, the band quickly earns a name for itself, touring Japan and touching off a sensation among young girls there before backbiting and Behind the Music-style flameout predictably ensues.
Some of the snapshot excess here seems designed or included chiefly for effect (who takes a phone call while having sex on an ironing board, for instance?), and the nature of the movie’s source material (it’s based on a book by Curie) additionally becomes something of a problem, in that the film never fully takes shape as either a true ensemble piece (two members of the Runaways, including Alia Shawkat, above right, have literally almost no lines) or something more explicitly through the eyes of Curie. Since the latter flamed out (and became a “chainsaw artist,” the end credits tell us) and Jett went on to a successful solo career, there’s a lingering disparity that hangs over the film. Narratively, it feels miscalibrated in small but significant ways, never truly getting at the heart of Curie and Jett’s relationship, but instead just flitting around its boundaries in mock-provocative ways, like a much-discussed kissing scene between the two actresses. Style and energy go a long way, though, and The Runaways has at least those elements in abundance. (Apparition, R, 102 minutes)