The failure to focus on the band didn’t have to result in a less satisfying story — films like The Rose and Crazy Heart prove that a fascinating star can eclipse the band, the fans and everyone else — but as Shawkat suggests, Currie’s tale is more like an after-school special than an artist’s look back. We end up wishing for more of Joan’s story, or more music, or more anything — just less emptiness, less passivity. More fun.
And maybe that’s really what’s missing in The Runaways: a sense of fun. Shots of 1970s artifacts — muscle cars, pay phones, wood paneling and more feathered hair than you can shake a bright pink hip-pocket comb at — provide a little fizz, but they give way to the murk of drug-addled and alcohol-fueled doom. I don’t mean to make light of Currie’s struggles with addiction, but does every scene of an altered state have to be so heavy and gloomy? Presumably it was fun for at least a little while, but we’re denied the joy of the highs that precipitated the depths.
At the end of the movie, the rocker and the victim briefly reunite, via a phone call from Cherie to a radio station where Joan is the guest. Currie notes that she’s turned out reasonably well because she’s "not dead or in jail," and there’s the rub: hers is a story told in absences, in what didn’t happen. It’s a failure by way of not showing up, while Joan and the rest were there, waiting, ready to storm the gates.
Fans of Jett won’t be disappointed in The Runaways — at least not while Stewart is on the screen — but as Joan and Cherie smile over the phone and "Crimson and Clover" plays over the credits, the final image is one of a missed connection rather than a love connection; a chance at stardom that defaulted into drug abuse and conflict.
The Runaways will, at least briefly, get the music of the band (and of the forever awesome Joan Jett) back into American teenage consciousness, and that’s no small feat. We’ve all heard about "sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll," but we haven’t heard about them from a young woman’s perspective, and that’s the other essential element that makes the film worthwhile.
If you find yourself dissatisfied after seeing this movie, grab a guitar or the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Live! DVD. The pure sex appeal of Joan Jett is really all about the music, and The Runaways forgets that. But the film might, as a side effect of its inability to live up to its subject, serve as a reminder to put another dime in the jukebox, baby.
The Runaways opens in limited release on March 19, nationwide on April 9.