Nothing like a movie to point out a hole in your music collection. The Runaways did just that. This is not the first movie to do that; Ray and Walk the Line both helped point me in new directions, not to mention the goodies found in Cadillac Records. What we have with these films is not merely visual entertainment, but tales that take you inside the music. The Runaways takes you to those early years of the Runaways, as the all-girl band taught anyone who would listen that girls can rock just as hard as the boys can.
Believe it or not, before this movie I had never heard a single Runaways song. I know, I know. That said, I have been a casual fan of both Joan Jett and Lita Ford for years. I think I am a fan now, or at least as much of a fan as a guy can be this many years after their heyday. I guess that makes me a fan of the movie too now, doesn't it? I guess it doesn't have to, but if you enjoy the music chances are you will like something about the movie.
The biopic is a genre that is notoriously hard to get right. In boiling lives down to a feature, many times the flavor is lost along the way as the story is trimmed down to its essentials. It has to be difficult deciding what should stay and what should get cut, as you run the risk of leaving behind the flavor that defines the character in favor of the big moment. Yes, the two can be finely intertwined, but they can just as easily be two vastly different things.
The Runaways is based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story written by Cherie Currie. I have not read the book but I can only imagine that it goes into a lot more detail than what made it to the screen. The film has a raw, intimate feel, but it also felt a little distant. It was like I was not getting the whole story, but rather the Cliff's Notes version. I got the main points with a little bit of flavor, but never thought I was getting the full story.
While the movie is not an in-depth journey into Runaway-land, it stands out from recent biopics, first because it is about a band and not an individual, and second because it is very entertaining in its look at the life cycle of the band. At the center of the story are the young guitarist whose goal is to prove girls can rock, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), the band's jailbait lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), and their rather unbalanced manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Yes, this does cut down on Sandy West (Stella Maeve), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), and Robin (Alia Shawkat who does not even have any lines), but I guess there is only so much time to spread around.