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Tuesday 09 November 2010

Film Review: The Runaways

Posted in: Movies
By Jacqui Stanford - 17th July 2010

The Runaways
Floria Sigismondi

Running time: 109 mins
Censor Rating: R16 -drug use, sex scenes, offensive language 
Festivals: Sundance, SXSW 2010


Bad ass. That's about the only term that really describes The Runaways. Yes, they were somewhat manufactured, but that doesn't mean they didn't get up on stage and rock – as an all-girl band who could 'actually play', paving the way for everyone from Sleater Kinney to Bikini Kill, Peaches, Kim Deal and The Gossip.

The band's explosion to fame has been retold in The Runaways, which is showing at theNew Zealand International Film Festival. It details how the five members met in the mid-70s through the incredibly peculiar record producer Kim Fowley, who saw the chance to break new ground with an all-girl 'jailbait' rock band. The nucleus of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and backing vocals and Sandy West on drums was raucously rounded out with lead guitarist Lita Ford, Jackie Fox on bass and of course, blonde teen bombshell Cherie Currie as the frontwoman.

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett
In a role that seems a long way from Forks, Twilight's Kristen Stewart nails the budding strut of the young Joan Jett, a role she was hand-picked for by Jett herself.

Jett is even more than an ass-kicking rock star. Her timeless, definitive look has been recreated by lesbians everywhere since the 70s – you know the one: panda eyed make-up, cropped messy black hair and black leather jacket. Jett's beyond-the-music influence on our culture is everywhere from the character Shane in The L Word to dark-haired girls sitting sullenly in the corner on Saturday nights at Candy bar, revelling in the giant chips on their shoulder.

There are two simple scenes where Stewart screams Jett the loudest; one picture-perfect moment where she stands in a doorway, slams her heel against the doorjamb, leans back and lights a cigarette. The other is a gorgeous moment where she lays smoking in the bath, make-up streaming down the face and rock and roll running through the mind of the girl who was once told by a music teacher "girls don't play electric guitars", and went on to sell millions of records.

The stunning grown-up Dakota Fanning shows she is a former child actress who has staying power as an adult. She makes the messed-up and somewhat vacant Cherie Currie her own, from belting out Cherry Bomb with the racy ferocity of a tigress, to falling apart as softly as a kitten.

A scene where Jett and Currie get it on while The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog pounds in the background is one of the film's most brilliant and memorable moments, as is the perfect recreation of a performance of Cherry Bomb in front of a screaming crowd of Japanese teenagers.

Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Jett and Currie
With the level of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll going on you can't help but wonder whether The Runaways could have been grittier. As my date for the night so aptly put it, "it was lacking in raw, lesbian rock and roll sex."

Jett is an executive producer of the film and says although the filmmakers pushed it, she didn't want to play up the 'salacious' side. "I didn't want to tell too many crazy stories," she told the Mail Online. "I'd like The Runaways to be remembered for other things – the tours we did, the bands we played with and the people we inspired."

And yes, The Runaways is a tasty slice of rock n' roll heaven. And anywhere Joan Jett is screaming and playing a guitar, well, that's the place I want to go when I die.

- Jacqui Stanford

Jacqui Stanford - 17th July 2010

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