As intense and impressive as Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart are in their respective roles of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, the real star of The Runaways is the music. The excellent soundtrack sets the film’s pace and style and encompasses many of the popular bands of the time. The film does provide all the necessary sex, drugs, and drama required of a biopic of the infamous band, but it manages to squeeze a little glamour into the proceedings and also oddly makes the band’s formation appear extremely lucky and rather easy. In fact, the real struggle comes in the epilogue when it’s revealed that singer-guitarist Jett had to form her own record label to keep her music going after being rejected by 23 major companies.
The year is 1975 and social misfit Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) finds a chance encounter with record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) as an opportunity to pitch her idea of starting an all-girl rock band. Intrigued, Fowley directs Joan to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and from there The Runaways are born. Soon adding guitarist Lita, bassist Robin, and wild child singer Cherie (Dakota Fanning), the band begins their ascent into worldwide stardom and their descent into sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Though Kim Fowley explicitly conveys the notion to the all-girl band that they’re there to sell sex, violence, and revolt, the film itself rather crudely parallels this concept by exploiting young Dakota Fanning in practically every way possible. Half-naked and constantly indulging in drugs and lesbianism, the 16-year-old girl portraying a 15-year-old might be what the creators assume audiences want to see, but more often than not it’s rather disturbing, especially to those who remember her for her substantially lighter gigs.
Produced by Joan Jett herself, The Runaways could have been a riveting, authentic portrait of a very influential artist. Instead, her rise to stardom and rebellious survival is painted as a typical rocker lifestyle, and the majority of screentime is spent on bandmate Cherie Curry, who led a similarly generic rock-n-roll existence. Jett’s harder earned success after The Runaways’ breakup is summed up in an epilogue, leaving lots of questions and interest for what was probably the more intriguing role. The film is unfortunately more informative than it is entertaining.
“Girls don’t play electric guitars,” instructs Jett’s first teacher, who she quickly abandons for less conventional training. It’s a man’s world, with the outcasts, freaks and partiers relying on male music for venting and release. The Runaways’ mark on the industry, pop culture and teens of the time is unquestionable, but as individuals their lives are much less impactful, especially when excluding Jett’s solo projects. Biopics are generally only as amusing as their subject matter is extraordinary. It’s exploitive at times, chiefly when Dakota Fanning, getting older in every film but still looking much too young to be garbed so scantily, dons numerous disturbingly skimpy outfits that show more than any non-pedophile should be comfortable with. But if you like underage girls smoking, drinking, snorting coke, dressing slutty and making out with one another, then perhaps this is your cup of tea. It also helps if you enjoy the music.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)