There's Johnny Cash, the Supremes, and there's Ray Charles, and now get ready for Hollywood's latest biopic on the all female rock group The Runaways, based on lead singer Cherie Currie's book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, from which the screenplay was adapted from. Written and directed by Italian filmmaker Floria Sigismondi, as far as biographies on musical legends go, this film still adheres to the same formula, but only because the fate of the stars are such that temptation to go wayward comes stronger for anyone who's a somebody, and frankly such meteoric rise and fall makes for an engrossing drama.
With bands though, an additional element comes in the form of inflated egos that have to be massaged. Unfortunately out of the five members, only drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) share some of the spotlight up front, with the remaining two Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Jackie Fox (unmentioned by name in the film) relegated to draping the background almost anonymously and one might think that The Runaways are a trio. And similar to what Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakquel did as a parallel to real world happenings, band managers, in this case Kim Fowley played by Michael Shannon in an arresting performance who knows exactly what's required to survive in the dog-eat-dog industry, almost always want to sex up and boost the lead's popularity even further, which will cause unhappiness amongst the others in the same group. But who can help it, since from the onset both Kim and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) wanted a Brigitte Bardot sex kitten to front the lead vocals for their band, who comes in the form of Dakota Fanning's Cherie Currie.
Much has been said of Dakota Fanning's performance as Cherie Currie, and true to form she shows again why she's probably the undisputed actress of her generation. I strongly believe if she stays the course and not get distracted by the glitz and glamour that most teenage stars in Hollywood will likely succumb to, then movie fans, and fans of hers, will be in for many treats in store as she expands her filmography. So far she has been confined to playing her age over the last few years, and her role here as the jailbait of a rock star allows for a descent into vice coming all at once, dabbling with almost every vice you can think of. Her Cherie pouts as she experiments with fleeting same sex relationships with Joan Jett, swearing, no hesitation in showing the middle fingers, puffs away on cigarettes, does cocktail and hard drugs almost everywhere, and like a one-up in portraying the state of drunkenness as to what she had done in Push, though still not very convincing. It's Dakota Fanning like you've never seen her before.
Kristen Stewart managed to barely hold her own against her co-star's more charismatic and iconic turn, and thankfully the opportunity came in the last act of the film with the formation of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, who are heard rather than seen since this is The Runaways biopic. It served the narrative quite well though in ending the film with the unfortunate demise of one and the creation of another, highlighting Joan Jett being the brains and creative force behind the bands. Between the two girls, hers is the edgier role playing very well opposite the sex-kittenish one that Fanning has on her hands, and put together they just crackle and come alive with plenty of energy on stage, or when practicing in their trailer park behind closed doors, working on new songs. Forget Twilight, as Stewart shows that she has enough mettle in her to take on more challenging roles rather than a girl who has to deal solely with relationship woes with unreal creatures.
The Runaways contained enough subplots happening outside of the music industry to give it an all round experience, and since the story's adapted from Currie's book, there's an examination into the sibling rivalry between Cherie and her sister Marie (Riley Keough), and some had mentioned the more controversial aspects of her life had been omitted from the film, such as instances of sexual abuse when young. Then there's the entire episode of their visit to Japan recounted as well, and became the fulcrum for possibly the best stage performance by the stars in their roles, and to sow the seed of discord as well. The pacing of the band's formative years, success and downfall
The film has its production sets and art direction to thank for in bringing back the nostalgic 70s, as well as the rock-n-rolling songs from the mentioned bands, some performed by the real deal, while others ably imitated and covered by the reel ones, which is oh-so-important to be convincing. It's a film that deals with girl power in an almost alpha-feminist way, but human failings affect everyone regardless of gender.