There’s nothing quite like entering a movie theatre on a bright, sunny day and getting completely engulfed in both the darkness of the space you're in and the story being told. I was hooked from the opening scene of The Runaways, and after watching the film, I immediately send a text to my best friend, a girl I’ve known since I was twelve years old, that read, “I just saw The Runaways movie; I really think you should see it. It reminded me of when we were young, and it made me really happy.”
First-time feature film director Floria Sigismondi does an amazing job of not just telling the story of The Runaways, five girls who changed rock ‘n’ roll forever with their brash songs and pouty teenage dispositions, but of capturing the magic and the all-around electricity of what it's like to be a young girl who finds power in music and chances across other girls who live and die by the albums made by their rock gods. Sigismondi, who also wrote the script, doesn’t focus much on Lita Ford, Sandy West, or Jackie Fox; the story is all about Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, whose stories, though completely different, eventually intertwine so that they become superstars together. The two young women tour the world as friends, bandmates, and sometimes, lovers.
My only major compliant about the film is that it centers Currie, played by Dakota Fanning. Though the movie is based on the newest, more graphic edition of Currie's memoir, Neon Angel, she was the only girl in the band who didn’t know how to play an instrument and had no desire initially to be in a band. Currie was, essentially, plucked out of obscurity by maniac record producer Kim Fowley (played brilliantly by Michael Shannon) while at a Hollywood club because she looked like an edgy, jail bait version of Bridgette Bardot. Fanning lacked the "rock ‘n’ roll authority" Fowley demanded of the real life Currie, whose growl could own a stage like nobody else.
The real star of the film is Kristen Stewart, who expertly channeled everything badass about a young Joan Jett. From her sneer to her guitar-wielding stance, not only does Stewart have an uncanny resemblance to the icon, but she beautifully conveyed Jett’s intense love of music and the utter heartbreak she experienced when The Runaways disbanded. While Currie would go no further in the music world (excepting the kitschy, gimmicky album she recorded with her twin sister Marie), Jett went on to form another successful band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and experience a music career that has spanned over thirty years.
I loved this move because it has a killer soundtrack (hearing “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise” gave me goosebumps) that reminded me of being a completely crazy and sometimes reckless teenager whose life soundtrack was filled with bands whose way was paved by The Runaways (e.g., Bikini Kill, L7, and Hole). The Runaways illustrates the insanity of youth, the allure of rock ‘n’ roll, and the uncomfortable yet undeniable power and sex appeal of teenage girls. (Is that wrong to say? I don’t care.) Seeing The Runaways made me want to take back what I said in an earlier review. Girls being active participants in a good band is definitely the ideal, but I do think girls should form bands together regardless because we need an empowering alternative to all of the shitty music on the radio.
My niece, who I’m crazy about and very close to, turned seven years old on the day The Runaways was released. To honor this occasion, I bought her a neon pink electric guitar and an amp. Her baby sister, who’s turning six in two months, will be getting a drum set. Eventually, I want them to watch this film and come away with the earth-shattering images of girls who rock their hearts out, and sound damn good doing it. We definitely need more of that.