Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning rock through “Runaways,” now on DVD
By Sean O’Connell
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Strangely polished considering its grungy subject matter, Floria Sigismondi’s “The Runaways” sticks to the established rules of music-biopic moviemaking as it records the rise and fall of The Runaways, an unpolished, rule-breaking, female punk band that helped launch eventual rock superstars Joan Jett and Lita Ford into the stratosphere. The movie makes its way to DVD this week.
The music is almost secondary in “Runaways,” however, save for the band’s most recognizable hit, “Cherry Bomb.” (Which, according to Sigismondi, took 5 minutes to write, robbing the song of any mystique it might have enjoyed.) The movie’s far more interested in the amorous, taboo relationship shared between Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) – a fact that can be attributed to Sigismondi’s decision to rely on Currie’s book, “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway,” as inspiration. With Jett and Currie out front, “Runaways” overlooks, or flat-out ignores, band members Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and a bassist identified as Robin (Alia Shawkat of “Whip It” and “Arrested Development”), even though it was Micki Steele, Peggy Foster and Jackie Fox who were credited members of the band.
Details aren’t as important to “Runaways” as mood, and Sigismondi’s cast wraps their fists around the rebellion and resistance that fuelled the manufactured garage band. Pieced together in the mid-1970s, The Runaways acted as a chainsaw slicing through the indulgent glam of David Bowie, Queen, Roxy Music and Suzi Quatro. They were a refreshing blast of grrrr-ly girl power, but their fierce independence gradually tore them apart from within.
Stewart’s the right choice to play Jett, as both artists come across as social misfits visibly uncomfortable when the spotlight shines in their direction. The more Stewart shrinks inward – slumping her shoulders and cowering from our attentions, as is her tendency as a performer – the more it feeds Jett’s internal urge to express herself musically.
Fanning, meanwhile, shows remarkable maturity as Currie, bear hugging the singer’s sexuality without exploiting it for cheap thrills. “Runaways” uses Currie’s tragic story as an example (albeit an overly familiar one) or how the showbiz machinery chews up and spit out the weak. Unfortunately, we still associate 16-year-old Fanning with her precocious child-actor roles, and will struggle – temporarily – to separate that persona from her latest parts. But strong performances like the one she gives here will only speed up Fanning’s process of establishing herself as an adult actress capable of any and all subject matters.
The one person who doesn’t need any help solidifying his presence as an actor to watch is Michael Shannon, who continues to exist in a universe to separate from the actors with who he shares a scene. Remember Shannon eviscerating Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s superficial suburban couple in “Revolutionary Road?” Well, as famed music producer Kim Fowley, Shannon takes that manic identity and cranks it to 11. “Runaways” ends up being a suitable title, for whenever Shannon’s on screen, he runs away with the whole production.
The “Runaways” DVD, released by Sony, comes with a handful of features, making for a rewarding disc. Jett joins Stewart and Fanning for a commentary track, while the rocker also coaches the actresses in the “Making of” clip titled “Plugged In.” A Thurd feature, “The Runaways,” touches on the history of the band, but seems redundant after you’ve seen the film. At least the real Cherie Curie pops by to provide her insights into the band’s backstory, as well as the film.
The movie – **1/2 out of 4
The DVD – **1/2 out of 4
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