My first reaction after The Runaways ended was “Is that really Dakota Fanning?” We all remember Fanning as the cute little girl from Man on Fire, War of the Worlds, and Charlotte’s Web. No more. Hollywood’s baby has all grown up and turned into a hot slutty vixen who can pole dance any chick on any given day. The Runaways is the latest biomusic film and although it doesn’t reach the quality of Almost Famous, its a damn awesome movie with probably the best soundtrack of the year.

I have to admit that as knowledgeable as I think I am of music, I didn’t know who The Runaways were until I heard about the movie. Strangely enough, I certainly knew who Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Lita Ford (“Close My Eyes” forever with Ozzy Osbourne – HELL’S YES!) were and I’ve listened to “Cherry Bomb” a thousand times. However, I didn’t know all this came from a band called The Runaways. Anyway, The Runaways is a movie about the rise and fall of this band. It begins in 1975 in Los Angeles where Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) dreams of being a rockstar, but no one is willing to take her seriously because she is a girl and an all-girl rock band was unthinkable at the time. One night, Jett gets her lucky break when she runs into Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), a famous record producer. She sells him on her idea of a chick band and the two of them set about forming the rest of the group. Fowley comes up with the idea of having a blond Bridget Bardot-looking girl to lead the band. Enter Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). She’s a 15 year old girl who lives at home with her strange mom and a sister who works at a fast food joint. Currie doesn’t really have any ambition to be a rockstar, but she gets discovered at a club one night by Fowley and Jett. From there we see the formation and success of The Runaways and how it all fell apart seemingly overnight.

My only problem with the film is that its too short, which prevents us from going beneath the surface of the band’s story. The movie is only 1 hour and 45 minutes and I wish it was a bit longer so it could properly delve into the narrative. For example, I wanted to know more about the rest of the group other than Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. I wanted to know where they came from and what they were like. The film barely touches on the drummer and it practically ignores the other members, including Lita Ford. We get a sense of the impact The Runaways made on the music scene and mainstream culture, particularly in Japan. However, I wanted to see the movie explore that to a greater degree.

Despite its shortcomings, which are minor in my opinion, The Runaways more than compensates for this with an engaging and well-paced narrative, beautiful cinematography, and an ass-kicking soundtrack. The director perfectly captures the feel and look of the 70s. The clothing and set design are spot-on, but most importantly, the actors convincingly pull off the mannerisms and speech of the era. Too many times we’ve seen films set in the 60s and 70s where the actors continue to sound like they’re from the modern era. Its distracting enough for me to pull me out of a film. I was a little worried coming into this film because the only other movie I’ve seen Kristen Stewart in was Twilight and she’s fuckin’ horrible in that. Moreover, as much as I like Dakota Fanning, I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to adopt the proper persona from that time period. Happily, it was a huge relief to see them both succeed in a huge way enough for me to take back every horrible thing I’ve said about Kristen Stewart and to predict that Dakota Fanning may be Hollywood’s next Jodie Foster or Meryl Streep.

If anyone reading this knows the answer, I am curious about what film stock the director used to shoot The Runaways. Aside from its grainier look, the film contains the kind of golden-washed, dusty color palette many films from the 70s had. I really dug the style and look and it certainly helped contribute to the movie’s overall 70’s atmosphere. Of course, a huge part of the film’s success is also its soundtrack. I’ve already mentioned how amazing it is and even if you don’t care for the movie, its impossible to love the songs contained in The Runaways (NOTE: Not all the songs in the soundtrack are Runaways songs). Some of the critics of the film have stated that the soundtrack is the main attraction of this otherwise shallow movie. I obviously disagree with that opinion, but I admit the soundtrack plays a significant role in making the movie work. Besides, its a fucking rock music biography. Why wouldn’t it have a great soundtrack???

I’ve discussed how good Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are in The Runaways. However, the performance that absolutely dominates this movie is Michael Shannon’s Kim Fowley. Where the hell did Shannon come from is the first question that popped into my head. If I was a casting director, I would be getting on the phone with his agent right now and putting him into everything I could. He steals every single frame of celluloid he is in. It helps that he’s playing an extremely flamboyant and strange man who is borderline child molester, but boy does Shannon make the role his own. By the way, I guess this must have been before the age of missing children appearing on milk cartons and America’s Most Wanted because any parent allowing their teenage girl to hang out in a beat up trailer in the woods with a David Bowie-looking man twice their age is fucking creepy.

The Runaways is a wonderful film and although its about yet another rock band hitting it big and then falling apart due to drugs, alcohol, and infighting, it remains a compelling story. Whats more, the music these girls created have stood the test of time and they are now among the greatest of rock classics. The Runaways is unfortunately struggling at the box office so I urge any of you out there who plan on seeing a movie this weekend to check this one out.

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