Watched: July 31
Admittedly there isn’t much new to digest here if you’re a seasoned watcher of rock biopics, although the focus on an oft-overlooked all-girl band from the mid-1970s is at least different to the norm. In fact, aside from Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, I’m racking my brain to think of another band-oriented biopic that concentrates on women. The Runaways were Joan Jett’s first group, perhaps best known for their minor hit Cherry Bomb, though they were – as the film briefly shows – big in Japan. Kristen Stewart plays rhythm guitarist Jett with the kind of nuanced, embattled, nervy, slightly-withdrawn but also slightly-confident style we have subsequently seen her develop through the rest of this decade, while opposite her Dakota Fanning is at times a magnetic presence as lead singer Cherie Currie, whose gradual big-headedness is perhaps unfairly put forward here as being the main catalyst for the band’s eventual demise. The only other primary character of note is Michael Shannon’s necessarily OTT take on Kim Fowley, the songwriter and record producer who helped put the band together and send them on their way (his flamboyant guru appearances have a comic air about them, a little like Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s brief scenes as journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous; it’s worth mentioning, though, that the film is based on Currie’s memoirs and never touches on the allegations made by bassist Jackie Fox that Fowley raped her).
The progression of the story within scenes, and the order in which events play out, may be familiar – we see the band form, write their first song, negotiate their first hostile gigs before becoming more popular, leap wholeheartedly into the sex, drugs ‘n’ rock and roll lifestyle on the road and eventually implode in the studio once some band members start to envy the attention lavished on others – but it’s all done with such spirit and energy that I enjoyed it very much; its certainly much more fun than a few of the sombre, dreary and overly-reverent jazz biopics I’ve watched in the past year or two. This film actually captures the spirit of the band, and a certain flavour of the times, and hey, it’s got Kristen Stewart playing Joan Jett. (***½)