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Rock 'n' roll was a man's game in 1974. Electric guitar-playing girls need not apply. And an all-girl band … well, don't make a much younger and more handsome version of myself laugh. But Joan Jett is in a make-folks-giggle kind of mood. She's convinced there has to be a way to break through the rock world's gender-biased glass ceiling. Why, she's got her tight leather jacket and spray-painted T-shirt all set for her first album cover.
Then she runs across slightly wigged-out independent music producer Kim Fowley. And he likes the all-girl slant. The seedy impresario quickly hooks Jett up with a drummer and sets them loose practicing in a garbage-strewn trailer. Other young females join in and the trailer starts to rock, but Fowley is convinced they need a sexier frontwoman than the snarling Jett.
So after a little club trolling they come up with Cherie Currie—a Ziggy Stardust-coiffed beauty whose only singing experience is lip-syncing to David Bowie at a high school talent contest. Never mind that, though. The Runaways are officially off and running. And screaming. And strutting.
Fowley torments the girls into pumping up the raunchy side of their act to the tune of hip thrusts, spread-eagle poses and come-hither growls. Finally satisfied, he tells them they're ready to jump into the first round of low-ball gigs.
"You b‑‑ches are going to be bigger than the f‑‑‑ing Beatles," he screams.
Cherie Currie is the product of an incredibly dysfunctional family, but it's obvious that she still cares about her sister and father. She tries to stay connected with her sis in spite of the fame that keeps pulling her away. And when her alcoholic dad falls sick she returns home to comfort him and give him money. She eventually steps away from her music career, in part because she seems to realize that her whole life has become corrupted by the dark side of rock 'n' roll. (Today she's an acclaimed chain saw sculptor.)
Joan Jett is set up as a pioneering spirit who wants to break through unfair barriers in the rock industry.
From its first frames The Runaways wants to make sure we get the point that this is a movie focused on the sexual and emotional coming of age of teens Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. The opening scenes show a 15-year-old Currie getting her first period. (Blood drips down her leg.) At the same time Jett is buying her first leather motorcycle jacket and soon after she gets a giggling lip-lock from a female school friend. From there, edgy images and situations tumble off the stage like so many mic stands at an amateur metal mash.
Fowley constantly hammers his youthful protégés with a barrage of raw language in an attempt to get them to become more erotically charged onstage. In fact, when he and Jett improvise the carnal teen anthem "Cherry Bomb" for Currie, the young singer is initially so embarrassed by the lyrics she can't repeat them. Fowley wears her down, transforming her into a corset- and stockings-clad rocker chick with (seemingly) no inhibitions whatsoever.
"This isn't about women's lib—this is about women's libido," Fowley screams.
Cleavage and flesh-revealing outfits abound—including girls running and jumping in skimpy panties and tops. Performers and audience members alike go braless in tight-fitting T-shirts, jumpsuits and tube tops. A girl pulls her shirt up over her head revealing her breasts. Currie does a spread-leg photo shoot in panties and a skimpy vest. Jett writes out song lyrics in her bath tub while covered by murky water. (An arty shot places the camera below her as if she was floating naked in a lake.)
Jett and Currie (played by 19-year-old Kristen Stewart and 15-year-old Dakota Fanning) share a slow, smoky, drugged-out kiss. Quick images imply that they end up having sex, and they're seen in bed together in the morning. (Currie has a sheet covering her otherwise naked form.) Jett teaches another bandmate how to masturbate while looking at porn (we see a quick shot of the naked men she's staring at) and in the shower where her movements are only partially hidden by a curtain. The movie makes it clear that the girl isn't "successful" until she starts fantasizing about Farrah Fawcett.
Fowley has sex with an all-but-naked woman on a table. (Sexual movements and sounds are given screen time.) A couple of make out scenes include very sexual touching. It's implied that Currie has sex with a roadie she seen making out with. A guy jumps naked (seen from the rear) into a motel pool.
Sexual slang and suggestiveness drags the dialogue down to the same level as the visuals. References range from porn stars to erections to underage sex. "Cherry Bomb" includes the lyrics, "Have ya, grab ya 'til you're sore."
Joan Jett displays her anger in a recording studio by throwing and smashing liquor bottles. Fowley sets up a heckling "practice session" for the band, bringing in local boys to bombard the girls with cans, dirt clods and dog poop. Later, at a live concert, Jett deflects a thrown can and it smacks her assailant in the face. Currie's grandmother hits some Japanese photographers with her cane.
Crude or Profane Language
Between 60 and 70 f-words. More than 20 s-words. Milder profanities include "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑." "P‑‑‑y" and "c‑‑k" are among the obscene references made to male and female genitalia. God's name is abused.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jett and the others smoke regularly. Currie starts smoking after joining the band. Cups and bottles of hard liquor and beer are everywhere, nearly omnipresent in fact. Wine and sake also make appearances. At one party/gig a pair of adolescent boys run off with a bottle of booze.
While flying to Japan, Jett and Currie snort cocaine. Jett and another girl huff from a paper bag. People pop pills and smoke what appear to be marijuana joints. On several occasions adults and teens alike fall over either drunk or stoned—including a scene where Currie passes out in her hotel lobby. Several of the hard partying drug- and alcohol-drenched scenes are shot in a glamorizing, color-drenched, music-video style.
Currie's dad is a drop-down drunk. We see him passed out in his car and later very ill and surrounded with bottles of prescription drugs. While visiting, Currie pops some of his meds while his back is turned.
Other Negative Elements
Jett drops her pants and urinates on another group's guitars. Both Jett's and Currie's parents are completely disconnected and disinterested in their teen daughters' lives. We never see Joan's parents, but Cherie's mom abandons her and her dad is an alcoholic.
As a rock group, The Runaways were pretty much a here-today-gone-tomorrow band, most memorable for daring to headline teen female rockers and for serving as the launching pad for Joan Jett. In the annals of rock 'n' roll moviedom, The Runaways will be even less memorable. In fact, if this uneven and utterly unlovable film is remembered at all it will be only for its edgy sexuality—including a lesbian kissing/sex scene between actress Kristen Stewart, 19, and co-star Dakota Fanning, 15.
"Of course, everyone's talking about it like it's a huge deal, because, like, you know, we're young and whatever," Stewart said about the scene in an Access Hollywood interview. "It actually is a really good example of how they were living at that time. It's, like, whatever is sort of in front of you, if you want it, take it."
While Stewart's simple and unconcerned assessment fails to brush aside the controversy, it does do a good job of summing up the central action in this girls of rock fantasy flick. Joan Jett and Cherie Currie quickly find minor fame and even more quickly slide down into drugs, alcohol and solipsistic excess.
"I just love the fact that they were so young, doing things that girls weren't supposed to do, and the energy of what it's like to be without parental … anything." writer/director Floria Sigismondi told nowtoronto.com.
I don't love that fact. But parental nothingness is certainly evident in the crumbling choices of the rudderless Jett and Currie. So maybe The Runaways will serve as a cinematic cautionary tale about the evils of rockin' excess.
Well, maybe not.
"Dakota Fanning is a wonderful actress and since she was a babe, she always delivers," opined screencrave.com reviewer Mali Elfman. "Some people see this as her coming out of her shell and becoming a women with her role as Cherie Currie. I could only see a 15-year-old girl in lingerie with her legs spread. Instead of these scenes being powerful and proving a point that this girl was lost, they looked more like kiddie porn."
For all of this film's rock 'n' roll crash-and-burn it's the constant and jarring leer that audiences will soak up. Early on, Kim Fowley salivates over his sleazy vision of a pretty girl group, saying, "Jail f‑‑‑ing bait! Jack-f‑‑‑ing-pot!" And it's that obscene and twisted exclamation that serves as The Runaways' real point.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett; Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie; Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley; Riley Keough as Marie Currie
Floria Sigismondi ( )
March 19, 2010
July 20, 2010