Review of “The Runaways”


The Runaways is writer/director Sigismondi’s first feature film, and her immaturity shows. She’s a music video director who prefers gauzy spinning and unfocused gazes to direct storytelling and revelatory emoting. Even the music takes a back seat to style — although Runaways songs play in the background throughout, the actual performances are cut short or are blurred into a trippy haze.

Sigismondi is so concerned with the look of the band, she forgets to explore the sound of it. Most rock biopics revel in the music-making process, but we get mere glimpses of it. The longest glimpse comes when Kim Fowley and Joan Jett write "Cherry Bomb" on the fly for Cherie at her first rehearsal.

Even if you already knew that Fowley was involved, the scene is still a letdown — nobody wants to be reminded that a man (and a horny, half-insane man at that) co-wrote the song that would become a riot grrrl anthem. It should be fun and thrilling to witness the process, but it mostly feels uncomfortable.

There’s plenty of comfort and creativity elsewhere, though, in the form of Joan Jett. Kristen Stewart channels Jett thoroughly and very sexily (all that studying paid off). Her detached, observant brand of cool is a master class in How to Be a Rock Star. We first see her shopping for her trademark leather and denim — in the men’s section of a clothing store. She pays for her new duds with a pile of change, then swaggers out into the street to meet a friend:


Joan Jett: Who am I?
Friend: Elvis.
Joan Jett: No, I’m the glycerine queen. Suzi Quatro. I’m a f—in’ wild one!


The female friend later plants a kiss on the wild one, and Joan just smiles cryptically, never reacting, always ultra-cool and mysterious. Stewart moves just like Joan Jett; she holds her guitar in that primal, nearly obscene way; she inhabits defiance while shrugging off her surroundings. Stewart is an instinctive actress who deserves a big career, and for fans of hers who are left cold by the Twilight phenomenon, The Runaways is a mighty relief.

Unfortunately, Jett has no backstory in the film. Whether that’s because this is Currie’s memoir or because Jett, as one of the film’s producers, decided to keep her own secrets, it’s a disappointment. And yet we end up knowing more about Joan than we do about Currie, simply because Joan knows who she is (and so does Stewart): a rock star, pure and simple. She faces the same challenges as Currie, but finds ways to deflect them or use them.

In a brief guitar lesson scene (one that made me momentarily fantasize about a completely different version of Sooner or Later), Joan’s teacher tells her that "girls don’t play electric guitars." Her response is to wordlessly plug in her ax and shred. Obstacles serve as fuel and help her focus on what matters.

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