by Carolyn Oakes
Charisma and rock music twist into a confident pile of film that tells the true story of the female driven rock band of the 1970’s.
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The Runaways (directed and written by Floria Sigismondi) is a satisfying film (based on Cherie Currie’s book) about girls and rock n’ roll, that is worth seeing for the outstanding performances, if not for a less than riveting sequence of events. A troubled teen by the name of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) finds a home as the lead singer of a burgeoning rock n’ roll band in the mid 1970’s, only to find this new home and world will rock her world far beyond the groundbreaking music she will help give birth to. Some say The Runaways, were the first authentic, female-driven rock band. The music speaks for itself, and I am inclined to agree with this sentiment. These women certainly paved the way for women, particularly young women, to hold their ground without apology in a field that had and has been typically male-dominated. Women were encouraged to sing sweet songs about love, and loss, as long as they didn’t get too rowdy or show raw and more aggressive emotions with the roar of a guitar, or by nearly screaming into a microphone. The Runaways did just that, if only for a short time.
While this story is powerful and important, especially for those who love music and are fascinated with its’ history, this film lacks a fervor and a specific direction. Luckily, standout performances by Michael Shannon and Kristen Stewart (out of left field) are enough to keep us watching, and to keep us caring about these young women and their mission. Stewart’s Joan Jett is a truly startling surprise. Joan Jett herself is quite an interesting and powerful persona all on her own, and yet this portrayal injects mystery and intrigue that makes her the most provocative character on screen. Stewart needs to do so little to convey Jett as she was: strong, massively talented, and a force to be reckoned with – the type to speak softly but carry a big stick. This film will leave you wanting to know even more about Jett, and that is a tribute to both Stewart and Jett herself.
The band’s frighteningly charming and manipulative manager Kim Fowley is in the hands of the outrageously capable Michael Shannon, who some may remember from his fantastic , Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s Revolutionary Road. Shannon is magnificent as Fowley, the sharp and steadfast manager who knows how to shake these girls up to produce the best possible end result : strong, and powerful music as well as the necessary public image that these girls are tough as nails. Fowley is ruthless, but he knows how to win in the industry, and Shannon is clearly no different in his pursuit to channel Fowley’s purpose. Michael Shannon is absolutely magnetic and worthy of any accolades that may come his way, and I predict they will in spades.
The Runaways meets its’ goal in that you will be hard-pressed to leave the theater and not be humming the songs that made these girls temporary stars. Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon lift an otherwise mediocre film off the ground in performances that will knock your socks off, while being so inherently different from one another: Stewart’s grace and subtlety is such a different method from Shannon’s brilliant lunacy. If you love music, you will love The Runaways. I dare you to leave this movie and not find yourself with “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bomb!!” floating around in your head for at least a week to come.
Carolyn Oakes Carolyn Oakes is a writer based on Long Island.
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