August 23, 2010
The Runaways (2010) ***
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
The Runaways (2010)- Adequate look at an explosive all-girl punk band that's not willing to get as down and dirty as it needs to. ***/5
There will always be an image in my mind of Dakota Fanning at the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominated for her performance in I Am Sam. The camera panned to her 8 year-old face when her category was announced, and she's wearing the most awkward toothy smile. Clearly, this little girl wasn't used to award shows which couldn't be more obvious by the look on her face. Well, that cute, sweet little girl is officially gone with her performance as Cherie Currie, the one-time teenage lead singer of the pioneering punk rock band The Runaways whose life quickly spiraled out of control due to a brutal drug addiction.
Fanning is great in the role, especially toward the end of the film when Cherie really takes a turn for the worst. This performance is astounding considering that Fanning is only 16 years old. In one sense, she was the perfect choice to play Cherie Currie; however, the choice of Fanning also proves problematic, though it's not at all her fault. Having a minor play Cherie Currie means that there's only so far director/screenwriter Floria Sigismondi can go to really get at the heart of Currie's demons. Too many times, the Cherie character only sort of does a bunch of really awful things, and as a result, the audience is left feeling like we're only scratching the surface. The Runaways could have been a lot darker and a lot more disturbing if an actress over 18 was cast to play the 15 year-old Currie.
Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame plays Joan Jett who later went on to one of the great female solo careers in the history of rock and roll. Though she has her moments, Stewart is pretty lackluster as Jett, offering a shallow, mannered performance which never feels real. She plays at Jett's quiet magnetism a bit too much, and the result leaves much to be desired. Oscar nominee Michael Shannon plays slimy record producer Kim Fowley who founded The Runaways almost solely on his own and led them to worldwide fame. His performance gives the film a sense of real malignancy which is so lacking when he's not on screen. Shannon imbues Fowley with such evil energy, not holding back and elevating a poorly written character into a magnetic, palpable presence. It's Shannon's charisma that's nowhere to be found in Stewart's Joan Jett.
Sigismondi is a relatively new director and screenwriter, and though her screenplay lacks depth and allure, she clearly has potential as a director. There are a handful of moments that are so over the top that they become almost operatic, but unfortunately, they feel as if they come from a different, better movie. One example involves Jett thinking up lyrics in a bathtub. After she's created "I Love Rock and Roll," she submerges herself underwater, and the camera switches to a shot looking up at Joan swimming in what looks like a vast ocean. There are a number of instances when characters' hands are shoved right to the front of the frame which come off quite visually arresting. Unfortunately, these directorial indulgences, while interesting on their own, do not flow organically and thus aren't earned. Yet, with the right script (written by someone else) and some carefully deliberated choices, Sigismondi might become a truly great director.
The Runaways is not a bad film... it's just not an especially interesting one. In order to present the sometimes treacherous combination of sex, drugs and rock and roll with authenticity, there needs to a willingness to delve into the pitch black recesses of storytelling without any apologies whatsoever. The band The Runaways was willing to take huge risks by throwing themselves into a man's world, and they changed music history as a result. This movie should have taken a page from its own subjects.