Girls, Glitter and Guitars Give Spark to "The Runaways"
By Yvette Cervera '11, Staff Writer
During an age when men dominated the rock ’n’ roll scene, an all-girl group, the Runaways, proved that girls are equally capable of producing music laden with growling voices, electric guitar riffs and sexually charged lyrics. Though the band’s stint in the limelight was short-lived, they have the distinction of being one of the first ever all-female rock bands, paving the way for future female rockers like the Bangles and the Go-Go’s.

“The Runaways” chronicles the band’s induction into rock ’n’ roll history, as told in concurrence with lead singer Cherie Currie’s troubled family life and struggles with drug addiction as recounted in her memoir, “Neon Angel.” Following the events leading to Currie’s downward spiral, the film centers around Currie (the ever-impressive Dakota Fanning) and her interactions with fellow band member Joan Jett (played to a T by Kristen Stewart) and manager Kim Fowley (vamped up by Michael Shannon).

The film introduces Currie and Jett by exhibiting their rebellious and angsty natures. While Currie is shown giving a middle-finger salute to rambunctious classmates who are less than enthused by her ode to David Bowie in the high school talent show, Jett displays her significant aptitude for bad-assness by donning a man’s leather jacket and teaching herself how to play the electric guitar. It is Jett’s palpable love for rock ’n’ roll that will propel her and Currie towards the path of stardom.

Even a guitar instructor’s assurance that “Girls don’t play electric guitars” isn’t enough to dissuade the determined Jett, who takes matters into her own hands by approaching music industry hotshot, Kim Fowley, with the idea of starting an all-girl rock band. Recognizing the potential goldmine in selling sexed-up jailbait to crowds of ravenous fans, Fowley patrols nightclubs looking for the trailer trash version of Brigitte Bardot (but with an edge) to be the face of the Runaways.

In his search to find a girl with the perfect look, Fowley discovers 15-year-old Currie, whose come-hither glance as she seductively sips Mountain Dew through a straw is enough to qualify her for frontwoman status. Currie joins the ranks of Jett and her assembled group of teenage misfits, including lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and bassist Robin (Alia Shawkat with zero lines), who was invented for the film when original band member, Jackie Fox, chose not to participate in the project.

Preparing the Runaways for the big time, Fowley trains the girls to deal with hecklers, advises them to think with their man parts each time they pick up a microphone or their instruments and drives home the point that sex sells in the music industry. To hold their own in a man’s world, the girls had to make music that appealed to the masses, which is just what they did with catchy tunes such as the film’s anthem, “Cherry Bomb.”

In portraying the rise and fall of the band’s road to fame, “The Runaways” benefits from the acting chops of its three lead actors. Shannon’s portrayal of Fowley is as unabashedly over-the-top as his character is sleazy, with Shannon seeming to revel in every outrageous statement that comes from his lipstick-tinted mouth. Love him or hate him, the man is undeniably entertaining.

While Shannon steals his scenes by embracing Fowley’s egomaniacal personality, it is Fanning and Stewart who provide the film with emotional depth. Currie and Jett have a precarious relationship: they are locked in a kiss one moment, before coming to blows over their differing opinions on the importance of publicity and the purity of the music the next.

Fanning is flawless as Currie, possessing poise beyond her years that allows her the range to portray her character with vulnerability and innocence, while showing her more mature side when she struts across a stage in a bustier, performing in front of a teeming crowd of Japanese teenagers. Stewart is equally captivating with her raw portrayal of Jett, embodying her character’s surly attitude and unapologetic bitchiness so perfectly it is as if she were born to play this role.

To bring the story of the Runaways to the big screen, writer-director Floria Sigismondi draws from her background in photography and music videos to recreate 1970’s Los Angeles in all its platform-heeled, glittering eye-shadowed and feathered-haired glory. While capturing the authenticity of the 70’s, Sigismondi purposely strays away from passing judgments regarding the line between female empowerment and exploitation in the entertainment industry, instead letting the coming-of-age biopic speak for itself.

Issue 22, Submitted 2010-04-15 14:24:17