Friday, March 19, 2010

"Runaways" effective punk-rock rise-and-fall

The Runaways (2010) 
106 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

A bracingly watchable, well-made but textbook memoir-account of the creation, rise, and fall of the mid-1970s all-girl punk-rock band "The Runaways" that co-existed during The Sex Pistols, were ahead of their time, and jammed out harder than Josie and the Pussycats. Kristen Stewart is the androgynous rebel without a cause, Joan Jett, who plays a mean electric guitar and starts The Runaways. Dakota Fanning, only 16 and going on 21 in glittery eye-shadow and a peep-show corsette, is a 15-year-old peach turned jailbait-sexpot, Cherie Currie, who becomes their lead singer after the band's megalomaniacal creep of a producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), writes them their first hit song “Cherry Bomb.” 

Photographer and music-video director Floria Sigismondi, for her feature debut, does a solid job of authentically evoking a specific sense of place and the decade, down to the Farrah Fawcett 'dos and platform heels, blossoming sexuality, and the easy availability to drugs and alcohol and no adult supervision. The vivid staging, whirling pacing, and a cherry-bombin' soundtrack all motivate this world. "The Runaways" isn't an in-depth biopic of The Runaways or the real Currie's 1989 biography “Neon Angels,” but more of a surface-skimming overview. This is more Cherie's story (her broken homelife and sister left to take care of her alcoholic father), with the other band members mostly backup extras. 

Still, it's anchored by the girls' juicy, impressive efforts. Stewart's sullen surliness is an appropriate fit for the hostile Joan in her tough, rawly uninhibited portrayal, in spite of her Joan not being given much of a story. Shannon is amusing and flamboyantly in-your-face as Fowley. Again, it's not always crystal-clear whose story writer-director Sigismondi is telling, but "The Runaways" is an effective time capsule for the musical icons and coming-of-age picture about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, and should bode well for these young actresses' promising careers. 

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