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.”