The Runaways: A Tribute to Girl Rock

Posted on December 4, 2011

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4/15/10-The 1970s is one of the most memorable decades in our country’s history for a variety of reasons: The first presidential impeachment, the gas shortage, economic stagflation among other things were what made this decade stand out.

But one of the most memorable events in this decade had to be the evolution of rock music.

Disco was prevalent during this time, but there were other artists that contributed to the continued development of the genres. David Bowie’s androgynous style and spacey, electronic music made him a notable influence for many bands to follow. This rock genre was primarily male-dominated, but one band did its best to be on an even-playing field and make its mark: The Runaways.

The Runaways chronicles the rise and fall of this semi-well known band. The journey is told from the perspectives of rhythm guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and the lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning).

Jett and Curie are two young Southern California girls with attitude and style who want to put their talents to good use. One fateful night at a local club, notorious music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) senses their talent and decides to cultivate these girls into the money-making rock and roll legends he feels they can become.

The rest of the movie focuses on the addition of The Runaways’ drummer and fellow co-founder Sandy West (Stella Maeve), lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor Compton) and Robin (Alia Shawkat), the band’s fictional bassist.

First, do not see this movie if you are expecting a thorough exploration of the band’s music. It does not pay homage to that either. Second, do not see this if you are expecting a nice “girl-power” movie. Now that I’ve warned you, the film was actually a pleasant surprise.

The performances are what make this rock film shine. Shannon’s portrayal of the androgynous, fierce, greedy music producer is hilarious and entertaining. Fowley develops bizarre training scenarios that help develop the girls’ ability to deal with everything from criticism to a raucous crowd. He wears a series of bizarre outfits that only add to the ridiculous character.

Obviously, the other notable performances were Fanning and Stewart. The girls used subtle nuances like simple looks to help emphasize the amorphous bond the girls shared (they go from acquaintances, friends, lovers and back to acquaintances within the span of the movie).

There were only a few things that hindered the blossoming potential of the movie. Compton is not a well-known actress, but she has been in a few decent movies—a reason why the director should have used her more. She speaks a total of 10 lines that contain every known curse word out there.

Maeve delivers a one-note emotionless performance while Shawkat has no lines at all. All her scenes consist of her looking confused or upset while holding a guitar.

The biggest flaw in this biopic was the fact that it did not pay homage to the modest attempt at the girl’s paving the way for more gender equality in rock ‘n’ roll.

Instead, it focused much more on the copious amounts of drugs they took, the exhaustion they suffered due to Fowley’s insane and demanding performance schedule and other acts a 15-year-old should not be doing (unless they want to end up on True Life).

The Runaways had great potential to show the failures and successes of a semi-well known girl band which produced two of the greatest guitarists out there, Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Despite these negatives, the movie was enjoyable.

Go see The Runaways if you’re a fan of music, but stay away if you are not a music buff.

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