The formula for a memorable rock band seems to have the three common essentials; sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Yes, talented musicians and singers are important for continued success, but the debauchery rocker lifestyle is an illusive attraction. It’s that much more enticing to see a rock band acting out against the norm, becoming larger than life spectacles.
However, in all too many cases, the stars that shine the brightest burn out just as fast. We’ve become accustomed to the rock world arc, wherein an artist makes it big fast and is on the highway to success until the temptations of the road halt their career and possibly their life.
A new film focusing on this classic story arc is The Runaways, a docu-drama detailing the short but explosive career of the all-girl rock band with the same name from the 1970s. The film, directed with a no apologies attitude from writer/director Floria Sigismondi, explores the lives and relationship of the band’s two front women, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. In actuality, the band was a group of teen girls that were assembled to create a hard rocking band, attempting to shed the dainty image of female musicians. This idea is reflective in the casting of young stars, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in the lead roles as avenues to move away from their teenybopper films.
Stewart takes a strange tomboyish attitude as lead guitarist Jett, reinforcing continually that she just wants to rock harder than anybody else. Acoustic guitar lessons are not for her, and she makes it perfectly apparent that she is going to take the reigns from any man or person standing in her way. Fanning is the epitome of jailbait playing the young lead vocalist Currie, exhibiting the dark side of fast success upon an impressionable teenager. Both actors really try to embody their roles, transitioning from young girls to teenage rock goddesses with a fair amount of success. They definitely bring more to the table then what was provided in the minimal script.
Like a rock concert, when the music stops, the arena becomes a little awkward and the same goes for The Runaways. There is loud, thumping rock music throughout and even if Stewart is a little abrasive at times, these are the most entertaining moments of the film. But the quieter moments become a chain of canned lines and since there is no real in-depth character development, we don’t get too emotionally involved when family issue arise or there is inner band squabble.
It seems that the meat of the story, the actual lives of these real life rockers, was cut out to make room for more music, which is perfectly fine if we were attending just a concert. There is some amazing scenes though thanks to Michael Shannon, as producer Kim Fowley, that highlight the before- the-stage creation of the band. The punk music soundtrack and gritty feel carries the film, but only scratches the surface of an otherwise canned idea. If anything, this will be a turning point in both Fanning and Stewart’s acting careers.
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