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.”

Dakota Fanning & Kristen Stewart – The Runaways

April 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the music biopic “The Runaways,” actresses Dakota Fanning (“War of the Worlds”) and Kristen Stewart (“New Moon”) portray Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, the two lead band members of the 1970s all-girl punk rock band the film is named after.

The Runways were best known for their songs “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise.” The film, which was directed by Floria Sigismondi and adapted from Currie’s book “Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story,” follows the Runaways from their formation in 1975 to 1977 when Currie abruptly quit the band. The group officially broke up two years later.

During press interviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas last month, I sat down with Fanning and Stewart to talk about the film.

Dakota, all the characters in this film are going through a sort of rebellious phase. You’re 16 years old. Did you go through that or did you sort of skip over it?

Dakota Fanning: I don’t think I’ve every really had anything to rebel against. My parents aren’t really crazy strict parents. They’re really good parents. I wouldn’t ever want to rebel against them. I guess I just do that in films. I guess I skipped over that, whatever that really means. I think we all rebel against something at some point but I didn’t have a stage that I went through where I was a bad kid.

There is a fine line separating an actor actually portraying a real-life person or simply doing an impersonation. How did you keep from crossing that line?

DF: For me Cheri is really different from how she was so it was kind of impossible to do an impersonation of her. I watched a lot of videos because I thought the performances were the most important. That could almost be an impersonation. Like with the “Cherry Bomb” dance, she did the same thing every time she performed.

Kristen Stewart: It would be an impersonation if you were thinking about nothing when you were doing it.

DF: Right, I wanted [the dance] to be so engrained in my body that I didn’t even have to think about it because that’s how it became for her. I did get to that point where I started and finished and didn’t remember how I got there, which was actually pretty exciting.

What kind of advice did Cherie or Joan give you on the set?

DF: Cheri and I talked a lot about why it ended for her and why she decided to leave [the Runaways]. That’s pretty important for my character. I don’t know if she really gave me any specific advice.

KS: Yeah, there are a million things that come out that they tell you – deep emotional things. Joan is comfortable with who she is even though she’s shy. She’s not always what she might seem, which is really badass.

Tell me about the first time you read the script and felt like it was something you had to be a part of.

DF: I read the script and I didn’t know a lot about the Runaways so I looked up their Live in Japan videos. “Cherry Bomb” is the first one I saw. That’s when I realized I wanted to play her. I wanted to do that. They weren’t sure if I was old enough or if I was right.

KS: Which was ridiculous, actually.

DF: I was lucky they believed I could do it.

KS: I got really freaked out because you realize all the stuff that goes along with playing Joan Jett.

What is the difference between playing a real person and playing someone on paper that you can make your own?

DF: It was totally different. As much as Joan wanted to give me freedom and have me be natural I couldn’t improvise stuff as easily as I could in other movies. I didn’t like to fill in the blanks. I didn’t like to answer questions. I was always asking them. But you should always feel like your character is real. You should always feel like there is a whole person to do justice. But it is totally different when they are there and you’re friends with them.

How was it being able to play characters who explored some darker more destructive territory?

KS: In [interviews] I’m the one who is asked why I play a disaffected teen all the time. I’m a teenage and I like roles that are thought out and not one-dimensional and framed. You might as well take the character name off [in those instances] and write “girl” or “cute girl,” “ugly girl,” “hot girl.” I like stuff that gets you thinking.

DF: I’ve always been drawn to intense and emotional storylines and characters that are actually going through something that could help someone else. I feel like all the characters you play there’s someone like that out there. I just like give that person a voice.

Do you feel like this movie made you grow up?

DF: I definitely relate a lot of the experiences that I have now to Joan and Cherie and to the movie. I feel like me, Kristen, Joan and Cherie share something that is really unique. I think that has changed me – these relationships and the experience. I wont be the same after knowing these people and portraying their story.

KS: I feel like every experience in a movie changes you a little bit. This one is really hard to describe. I don’t know how to be specific about it, but it definitely has. It definitely made me more confident.

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.