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The Runaways: Movie Review

Rated: R
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Alia Shawkat, Michael Shannon, Tatum O'Neal
Released by: Linson Entertainment

In Short: Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning grow up fast in a flashy but overly familiar account of a pioneering rock band.

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Coming-of-Age Rock Band Biopic Feels Canned

nyone who’s watched a rock ‘n’ roll biopic or two will probably experience a distinct sense of familiarity while watching “The Runaways,” the story of the eponymous 70’s all-girl punk group. Misfits from humble beginnings form a ramshackle band but don’t achieve true synergy until they find the perfect frontwoman. After paying their dues, and with the help of their overzealous manager, said band lands a big time record contract and their fame suddenly skyrockets. With that fame come monetary success and a life of excess, until substance abuse and petty jealousies create an inexorable rift, and the band splits up for good. Cue the “where are they now” paragraphs before the final credits.

Perhaps writer-director Floria Sigismondi assumed this formula wouldn’t yet be old hat for teenagers, who seem to be the target audience if the casting of “Twilight” franchise stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in the leads is any indicator. Unfortunately, streamlining what is actually a much more sprawling saga than what the boxed-in narrative of “The Runaways” would suggest doesn’t seem to have been a painless process. Several scenes summing up key moments in the Runaways’ career come across as staged and labored rather than raw and authentic, which is hardly advisable for a movie about rock music. Instead, the film relies largely on art direction and camera work to connect its story to the times and spirit of the music it highlights. And to their credit, the filmmakers often nail these elements perfectly. The film is helped further by a solid soundtrack of the band’s songs, and those of their peers and influences.

Kristen Stewart in The Runaways Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in The Runaways

As founding Runaways member and eventual rock icon Joan Jett, actress Kristen Stewart gives her usual routine of awkward ticks and mumbling with just enough punk swagger that she doesn’t embarrass herself. Dakota Fanning does a bit more actual acting as lead singer Cherie Currie, but her typical precocious stoicism suggests a woman reflecting on the events of her life from the future rather than a 16-year-old living it in the moment. The script’s showiest role is undoubtedly that of Runaways manager Kim Fowley; a verbose, howling man-child that actor Michael Shannon effortlessly brings to life with an occasionally frightening verve. Of the other band members, only Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West gets enough lines to leave any kind of impression, and it’s a sketchy one at that.

Despite its aesthetic strengths, "The Runaways" carries a slight whiff of missed opportunity. While the band’s short career is hardly an original story, its context was hugely important and even controversial at the time. Not only were they the first girl group to break into one of music’s most testosterone-driven genres, but they were practically all still children when they did it. Canned scenes, cool clothes, and rocking music just aren’t quite enough to do the story justice.

Reviewed by Matt Kane

(Updated 03/19/10 CT)

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