The Runaways Review
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Today, there’s nothing unusual about a girl with an electric guitar. No longer destined for pop ballads and backup vocals, musical women can start their own rock band without raising eyebrows. But that wasn’t the case in 1975—the year of The Runaways.

In 1975, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) was a tough chick who dressed in black leather and wanted to play the electric guitar. At a club one night, she shared her dream with eccentric music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon): she wanted to create an all-girl rock band. Immediately seeing her idea’s money-making potential, Fowley introduced Joan to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and helped them build their band. But they needed something more than just good music. They needed a jail-bait blonde bombshell.

Before she met Kim and Joan, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) was just a pretty teenage loner who loved David Bowie. But, with some coaching, she became the lead singer of The Runaways, the all-girl band that quickly took the world by storm.

Based on Cherie Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel, The Runaways initially promises to be an up close and personal look at the sudden rise (and just as sudden fall) of a ground-breaking rock band. In the beginning, the film hints at character development, offering a glimpse of Joan’s transformation into a tough rocker chick, as well as Cherie’s relationship with her alcoholic dad (Brett Cullen) and her detached mom (Tatum O’Neal).

The five young rock star hopefuls meet in a trailer in the woods to write and practice—with lots of help from Kim, who coaxes and coaches and offers them “heckler training.” And, for a while, the film is edgy and entertaining. It’s a lesson in marketing just as much as it’s a lesson in music, as the girls anxiously follow Kim’s expert advice to be tougher and sexier and dirtier.

Meanwhile, the young characters get to show some personality. Fanning shines in an almost uncomfortably all-grown-up role as the reluctant young sex kitten. Even Stewart seems nearly bearable, with her trademark blank, angsty stare—which is actually rather fitting for her role as tough rocker chick Jett. And Shannon’s hilariously unhinged Kim is always there to offer plenty of comic relief.

Unfortunately, though, the film soon falls into to the same old rock ‘n’ roll formula. Once the girls become superstars—once they start touring the world and doing drugs—the band starts to crumble. And when the band begins its downward spiral, so does the movie. What started out as a character-centered rock doc soon becomes a drug-fueled blur as the story falls apart and the characters become little more than hazy rock star clichés.

Although it starts out on a solid note, The Runaways (like its characters) gets caught up in sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and loses all interest in the stuff that matters—stuff like character development and plot. So while its entertaining A-side is edgy and engaging, its formulaic B-side keeps it off the hit list.

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