Runaways doesn’t run from cliches

By Jordyn Marcellus

Outside a few moments of rock’n’roll brilliance, nothing can stop the tidal wave of overwhelming music biopic cliches that makes watching The Runaways an eye-rolling chore.

The Joan Jett produced flick is the premiere effort for Canadian music video veteran/photographer Floria Sigismondi, whose past work includes Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People.” The Runaways is Sigismondi’s screenplay adaptation of Runaways lead singer Cherie Curie’s autobiography Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, and it’s a viciously uninteresting script that has nearly nothing going for it.

Her music video experience wows with intense, visually sumptuous rock-out sequences that pull audiences into the thrilling sight of The Runaways. Unfortunately, her work with the actors leads to no investment in any of the characters, and coupled with her script, doesn’t make viewers care much about anything.

The screenplay feels like a tired effort from Sigismondi. There’s only so many times rockflicks can show a hotel room getting trashed or a bunch of coke going up some budding rock engenue’s nose before it’s time to retire those cliches. Even if it is 100 per cent accurate, it’s become such a hacky way to show rock excess that it loses all impact and meaning.

Ultimately, the story is best charted by perusing a handy biopic cliche chart — band strikes it big, drugs are consumed, records are cut, people are photographed in the near-buff, sadly the band breaks up and boo-hoos are had. Eventually the two leads meet to make amends, there’s some semblance of a happy ending, cue a white text on a black screen explaining what all the film’s main characters are up to now, roll credits and fin.

While the plot is ultimately lacking, casting Dakota Fanning as Cherie Curie was a brilliant move. She’s forced by band manager Kim Fowley (a brilliantly manic Michael Shannon) to act like a  Bridgette Bardot-inspired beauty. Fowley berates her constantly to make the audience want her, to need her, to sell her young and firm body to the masses because rock-‘n’-roll is all about sex and that’s what the band needs to break it big. Curie falls into that mode, becoming Fowley’s perfect little lolita jailbait.

The most distressing scene, and easily the best in the entire film, is a brilliant recreation of a 1977 Runaways performance in Japan. The at-the-time-of-shooting 15-year-old Fanning struts around the screen in a corset, garters and stockings as the 17-year-old Curie. Fanning undulates and oozes sexuality, while Sigismondi’s hyper-kinetic camera movement launches and accentuates the raw and ready sex pouring from her veins. She has fun with it, perfectly mimicking Curie’s movements — when you realize Fanning’s age and then realize the way her character’s been manipulated into acting like this, it ends up deeply uncomfortable.

If the entire movie was like this scene, it would be great. This one moment  comes across as a knowing meta-commentary on how the music and film industries sexualize teens by allowing the way-too-young Fanning to strut her stuff and show she’s not just the adorable little girl we grew up with. It implicates any viewer who finds Curie’s performance titillating — remember, this is a teenaged girl berated into showing off her sexuality, tying her self-worth to her body. Unfortunately, this one scene does not make the movie great. It only makes it intriguing, but wholly unsatisfying.

As a side note: Kristen Stewart plays Joan Jett. She really isn’t very good. Like nearly every role she’s shoe-horned in to, it doesn’t work. She doesn’t sell it. It’s hard to believe her as tough-nosed and she just can’t act outside of wildly moving her mouth. Any snarl she tries to make as the badass rocker Joan Jett comes across as gum chewing. She doesn’t hold any interest and even makes the much-buzzed about Stewart/Fanning lesbian kiss yawn-inducing. She doesn’t ruin the movie, but she doesn’t do anything worth noting.

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