The Runaways

April 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi (debut)
Written by: Floria Sigismondi (debut)

There’s more to a music biopic than just the music. While music video director Floria Sigismondi captures the look and sound of the 1970s, the story of the all-girl punk band portrayed in “The Runaways” never stands out as more than an average narrative about a musical group’s rise to fame and fall from grace.

Despite its script’s flaws, actresses Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart are well cast as bandmates Cheri Currie and Joan Jett. The story follows the band’s formation at the hands of devious manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who realizes he’s sitting on a gold mine when he brings a group of misfit girls together to create something no one else had ever successfully done before. He does it mostly by exploiting them as sex kittens.

“This isn’t about women’s lib, it’s about women’s libidos,” he says as the group practices in an abandoned trailer in the middle of nowhere.

Based on Currie’s book “Neon Angel: Memoir of a Runaway,” most of the story is hers mostly because she was the one that ended her time with the band only two years after it formed in 1975. We watch Currie’s troubles at home with an alcoholic father, but where the film needed to focus more of the drama on was the band and how it fit into the era and broke ground for other female musicians that came after.

While most music biopics have jealousy and drugs at the center of a band’s demise, that doesn’t necessarily make up this specific group’s real downfall depending on who you ask. No matter what the real reason the Runaways lasted only four years, Sigismondi plays the story safe. It almost feels like director Mary Harron’s “The Notorious Bettie Page” about the 1950s pin-up girl. When it’s pussyfooting along, it’s not very affecting. When it attempts to break into darker territory it feels like it’s posing instead of letting the story come naturally.

It’s one thing to watch Fanning taking drugs, it’s something else when she smashes a pill with the heel of her boot and subsequently kneels to the ground to snort the residue off the ground. All we can say to that is, “How very punk.”

Floria Sigismondi – The Runaways

April 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

Director Floria Sigismondi has worked on a number of music videos including projects for Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Interpol, the White Stripes, and Christina Aguilera. She was given the opportunity to give life to the Runaways, the short-lived all-girl punk rock band of the 1970s, in their biopic starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.

During the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, Sigismondi talked to me about her experience on the set and whether a man could have directed this movie.

What drew you to this story and how did you use Cherie’s book to capture this part of music history?

The story of Cherie and Joan was really captivating to me and how they were different and how this moment in time when they came together was really special to them. I used Cherie’s book for her side of the story and then interviewed Joan and Kim [Fowley, the band’s manager] and then tried to figure out what the story was from there. It’s hard when you’re trying to portray all these people’s lives.

Did your work as a music video director help you out especially with the concert portions of the film?

Yeah, and being around musicians all my life helped. Definitely with concert parts I felt the most confident. Having experience in that arena was very important for me. All the girls took [music] lessons, everyone bonded together as a band. I made sure that happened every day. They were able to feel what it was like. I wanted to give the film an energy.

With Joan and Cherie on the set, did it feel like you had other directors working with you?

No, it didn’t feel like that but I think it was really supportive for the actors. If I was doing it completely wrong, they were going to speak up. They never did, so that was good. But for Kristen and Dakota it was a good thing.

When casting for the leads what brought Kristen and Dakota to mind?

I went to go see “Into the Wild” and I thought, “Wow, [Kristen’s] eyes.” She really has a lot of presence. When I met her, there was something about her that reminded me of Joan. She had this sort of tough shy quality about her. I was really excited when that happened. We locked in her contract before “Twilight” came out. Then for Dakota, she was far too young when we started actually writing [the script], but by the time I got into casting I heard she was really interested. I met her and she has this glint in her eyes. It felt like a real commitment.

Could a male director have done this film justice?

I don’t think maybe to the details just because I wanted to [include] a lot of my childhood and what it was like for all those feelings to come out at that age. Hopefully that injected something unique to it.