The Runaways doesn’t stray from the path that most making-of-the-band movies follow, yet it remains compelling from start to finish. Whether you know the story of the ground-breaking 1970s all-girl band called The Runaways or not, the opportunity to watch Kristen Stewart as fiercely determined rock and roller Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as unlikely singer-turned-sexpot Cherie Currie makes this film worthwhile.
No one will be shocked to learn that the L.A. rock scene in the 70s attracted some sleazy people, like—
—producer/entrepreneur Kim Fowley, played to a fare-thee-well by Michael Shannon (an Oscar nominee last year for his showy performance in Revolutionary Road), or that going on tour with no adult chaperones is an open invitation for naïve, underage girls to overindulge in every possible way. Yet the screenplay, written by photographer and music-video director Floria Sigismondi (based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel) never seems hackneyed, and her staging of every scene has an immediacy that makes potentially trite material appear vivid and truthful.
Kristen Stewart has been honing her acting chops over the past few years, quite apart from her star turn in the Twilight series, and etches a strong character here: a tough girl from a broken home who just wants to make music. Dakota Fanning, who just turned 16, already has a daunting resume, but this portrait of a girl who spins out of control is remarkable. People said that Fanning’s talent belied her years when she was 7 years old in I Am Sam; the statement still holds true today. For a high-school student who’s apparently leading a somewhat normal life to embrace the darkness of Cherie Currie’s experiences so well is absolutely astonishing.
Other members of the real-life Runaways take a back seat to Jett and Currie in this story. For a fuller picture of the band’s rise and fall, one must turn to the 2005 documentary Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways. But for a dramatically effective look at the world of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll—and how it affected two teenage girls—this film does quite well.