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Movie Review: The Runaways (2010)

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Biopics, especially about musicians, are hard films to get right. A lot of the time they feel like a generic rise and fall story, chronicling the life of a musical figure that’s real life is far more interesting than how it’s explored on-screen.

Thankfully The Runaways isn’t one of those movies. Instead it’s a well made, witty, and often electrifying slice of ‘70s rock and roll that’s made all the better by a trio of quite fascinating performances.

The Runaways tells the story of the conception, rise and eventual fall of one of the first successful all-girl rock groups, fronted by Cherie Currie a.k.a Cherry Bomb (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart).

The film accomplishes what I think is crucial for any film charting the lifespan of an iconic figure (or group of figures) from years past: it captures perfectly not only the look but the feel of the era in which it’s set. In 1975, the world of rock and roll was dominated (and it still is, to some extent) by men. The idea of an all-female rock group making the big time was rarely even thought of much less scoffed at.

But along comes Joan Jett, a young rebellious woman who brings the idea of starting an all-girl band to renowned manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). On top of capturing the era of music, the film also maintains that air of rebellion that’s key to what image the titular band was putting out there.

Another key thing the film has in spades is an amazing soundtrack. Along with music from The Runaways thesmevles (as far as I can tell the songs were all performed by the actual actresses and not just lip-synced), there’s also tracks from the likes of David Bowie, The Stooges and Sex Pistols.

Admittedly, if that list of music doesn’t appeal to you then you might not take to The Runaways. It’s not only a telling of one of the icons of female rock music but a celebration of all things rock, from the unusual visual style to the authentic surroundings and clothes.

Having said that, the film does as good a job of being an introduction for those who are not familiar with The Runaways as it does providing a celebration of them and similar music for the already initiated.

As I said, what makes The Runaways all the better is the performances from Stewart, Fanning and Shannon. Stewart ditches her sulking persona as Bella in The Twilight Saga, dons a choppy haircut and leather biker jacket and shouts into a microphone with conviction. She brings real weight to Joan, as does Fanning to Cherry Bomb, a persona that on paper was a difficult one to pull off. Shannon is as brilliant as ever as the band’s manager, Kim Fowley, even if he takes things to a level that’s a bit too over-the-top.

Despite it being more appealing to those who love the style of music it showcases, and the fact that it sometimes tries a bit too hard to be cool and edgy, Floria Sigismondi’s biopic is one of the best to come along in a long time. Breezily paced and entertaining yet with a lot of depth and emotion to dig your nails into , it’s one of my biggest pleasant surprises of 2010 and one I look forward to re-watching multiple times.

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