Monday, March 22, 2010

The Runaways (2010)

The opening shot of The Runaways is one of blood dripping and soaking into concrete - menstruation blood from a valley girl blonde experiencing her first period. A jarring, in-your-face welcome, it sets the tone for an angry bio-pic about young girls becoming women in 1970s America, clashing violently and rebelliously against a gritty societal reality.

Written and directed by the largely unknown Floria Sigismondi – from a book by former Runaways singer Cherie Currie – this is the purest rock n’ roll flick to hit theatres in a decade, and ranks with the best ever. Detailing the early days of the now legendary Joan Jett and the formation of her breakthrough all-girl band, it heaves and bleeds with angry authenticity, channeling the same raw exploration and excitement shared by the music and its young, inexperienced heroines...

Twilight star Kristen Stewart plays Jett, a quiet rebel with hunched shoulders, weighed down by absentee parents and a man’s leather jacket. Jett is obsessed with two things – her guitar, and the rock world it can create. When she spies legendary producer Kim Fowley (played with satanic insanity by Michael Shannon) at a Sunset rock club, she wows him with her determined revolutionary ideas – an all girl rock band? You can see the dollar signs ringing in his eyes.

Jett’s a rocker in need of a band, which Fowley is happy to help set up. He’s building something more than music. He’s building product. He wants to sell, and he knows nothing does that better than sex.

Enter Dakota Fanning’s Cherie, a wild child Bowie-enthusiast he spots while prowling the local clubs. Cherie’s a natural performer – she’s been performing for her obsessive actress mother and her drunken father all her short life. She’s a broken young girl desperate to belong. She’s perfect for the Runaways.

Sigismondi details the band’s “lightning in a bottle” rise and whiplash fall, hitting all the notes in the rock band bio-pic playbook. But what separates The Runaways from its Behind the Music peers is its understated approach to the drama. Whereas your average rock pic will go to great lengths to detail the why’s and how’s, Sigismondi’s movie lives in the moments, generally skipping the details of setup, digging deep into the show, and then largely ignoring the results. She transitions and cuts in a series of blurs, flowing from scene to scene, rarely pausing for evaluation. It’s a fast and wild mirror to the story, and it fits the scene just fine.

The Runaways is like their music – loud, brash, angry and simplistic. At times it feels more like a concert or music video, rattling with implicating visuals and emotions, saying more with pictures than it ever does with words. It’s a movie immersed in the music and its world, sucked into rock and roll just as its girls were then, and the audience is while watching now.

Its performances are spot on. Dakota Fanning has a chance at being the most successful child actor ever, and continuously proves herself worthy of such a title. She’s got a dark side, and it’s on full display here.

Stewart is equally strong, as she tends to be when not moping about vampires and werewolves. Music flicks seem to suit her - she was great in Adventureland (2009), and fits perfectly in its dirtier, teen angst scenes.

But as good as they are, it’s Michael Shannon who packs the most punch, playing their manager with reckless eccentricity. As creepy as he was in Revolutionary Road (2008), he’s even scarier here, drugged up on ambition and power. Watching him create, manipulate and destroy this band is only made more alarming by its accuracy.

Like Almost Famous (2000), The Runaways is insight into both music and its dysfunctional industry. This band was equal parts music and machine, and in that way 100% rock and roll. The movie understands this, even as it revolts against it in execution.

And in that way, it too is 100% rock and roll.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails