“The Runaways” (2010) on the Emergence of Women and Sex in Rock & Roll

The Runaways (2010) on the Emergence of Women and Sex in Rock & Roll

I’ve been meaning to see this movie for the longest time, and although Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart’s general audiences cater to younger, family-friendly audiences, it’s safe to say that this film did not let that get in the way of creating this coming-of-age 70s biopic of real-life Runaways Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. As the first American all-girl teenage rock band, I fear this short-lived band was never given enough credit for their ground-breaking influence on the history of rock music today. Initially started up by aspiring guitar-player Joan Jett, she went on to lead the band through a wave of hysteria, including rebellion, the status of sex in rock n’ roll, the influence of drugs, and a world dominated by men–all led by the Svengali-like influence (def: controlling, sinister influence) of manager Kim Fowley, played by Michael Shannon.

Photo courtesy of Collider.com

Photo courtesy of Collider.com

What particularly impressed me was how authentic this film felt. Period movies produced in different decades tend to look like the present decade they’re in even though they’re talking about a prior decade; but, this particular film had some ‘edgy’ filtering and a particular older look that makes it unbelievably work–and I’m usually one hard to convince!

I have to say, each of Fanning’s and Stewart’s performances are unbelievably awesome. The only setbacks to their performances, I’d say, would be held to the responsibility of the writers and producers who contrived such a dense, complicated, action-packed, and hormonal-driven story into a mere hour and 46 minutes. My only disappointment was that I felt there was so much left out to the stories of each of the characters (these characters are particularly dense and loaded that it’d be a shame to not give them more screentime!).

One of the deep underlying tones and truths of this film that hits you the hardest is the obvious emerging theme of sex beginning to take over the industry. As Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) was recruited to the band based on her ‘look’, Kim Fowley sought her out to be the ‘sex kitten’ of the band–the eyes and frontwoman. One of his most prominent influences on the girls was teaching them how to “think with your cock”. Paints such a nice picture for doe-eyed Currie, with her softer Bowie influences and beach-blonde hair, trying to fit herself into the mold of a rock n’ roll sex kitten, while trying to make the entire Runaways band not made a fool and mockery in the eyes of a world dominated by men, ya?

Joan Jett: … This is exactly what Kim wants. He’s gonna be really happy! But this is all they’re gonna say about us! Do you think anybody’s gonna take us seriously?
Cherie Currie: Son of a b*tch, it’s just publicity. It helps everyone.
Joan Jett: Well what were you thinking, publicize the music! NOT YOUR CROTCH!

What also serves particularly unsettling is the decay of youth when infused into this world of fame and stardom. At the ripe young age of 15, Kim Fowley sells the Runaways image as he manipulates Cherie Currie into photographing particularly scandal-worthy solo images while donning fishnet leggings, heels, and a corset bustier; and while they all get lost in the sex and the drugs that come along the road, Joan Jett serves as that touching lighthouse to the band that reminds them what they actually stand for–the breakage of females in a male-dominated world who can play their instruments and their music just as well–maybe even better–than the ones who think they can only sell through “opening [their] legs”.

[Here’s where I rant a bit, if I may ask your permission…] I have to say, I’ve been a minor low-key fan of Stewart for some time now; I first saw her in a minor role in 2007’s Into The Wild (which is by far one of my all-time favorite books-turned-films) and I was immediately a fan. Although I’ve never seen any of her Twilight flicks–and I’m quite proud to say that–there was always this dark and soft, vulnerable side to her covered by her hard edge that I always felt akin to in some oddly strange way. She definitely stays true to herself and is utterly honest in everything she does–and she grew up from an indie-flick background?!?–what’s there not to love? Nonetheless, this may be one of her most fitting and strongest performances, donning the raspy-voiced tomboy Joan Jett-tude. Although I fear they did not get the chance to utilize Stewart’s character in more speaking parts throughout the film, I felt she fit the role so well that any flaws to the script can be forgiven.

I don’t really have much to say about Fanning but that her portrayal was well-done that I, in turn, was utterly heartbroken. It seemed to be a godsend to have Fanning who, at 15 during the filming of this flick, depicts 15-year-old Currie (yet, I felt she still looks too young in the face to portray this role). As both Fanning and Stewart sing in the film, Stewart did an absolutely stellar job at manipulating Jett’s vocal tendencies, yet Fanning’s somewhat shrivel-y naive voice was still too ‘soft’ to catch Currie’s distinctive growl. But, I guess that ‘shriviliness’ fit well to Currie’s utter youth and young age, which led to a more heartbreaking performance. And, Fanning did rebel and let loose quite a bit in this film! –I’m not complaining.

Photo courtesy of Collider.com

Photo courtesy of Collider.com

I’ve always been one for female empowerment, being a female myself, and real hard rock n’ roll, and that is just what you get in this film. Toss in some slutty remarks of what society thinks of women, and you get a perfect portrait of the 70s. This film did so remarkably well at painting an accurate picture of the industry in the 70s, that it is both so beautifully conceptualized and artistically written out. Toss in some girls who really did their part in putting an effort to give their characters credit where credit is due, and you’ve got a film you just can’t hate. Although I admit I would’ve liked more of that authentic angst played from Fanning and Stewart, sometimes that pure inner-angst can only be donned by the true Currie and Jett. Whatever the case, this was a damn good film that I only wish told more of the long overdue story of The Runaways.

P.S. If you get the chance to buy or listen to the soundtrack, I’d highly recommend it… (Check out some song samples from Amazon here.) It’s got some original hard rock anthems to the 1970’s and pays a tribute to such a ‘rollicking’ time… (I really need to find a cure to my ever-yearning plunges into the past…)

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