DVD: The Runaways

Photo: Amazon.com
(She's a ch-ch-ch-ch-cherie bomb!)

Starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Scout Taylor-Compton and Stella Maeve. Directed by Fioria Sigismondi. 106 minutes. 14A

In the middle of The Runaways, Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett turns to her jail bait band mate, Cherie Currie and screams "Publicize the music! Not your crotch!" That line, in all it's super-campy glory, pretty much sums up my feelings towards the grrl-power biopic.

The problem with the The Runaways is it tries too hard to make the music movie magic that's already there. The story itself is rockin': wannabee rocker girl (Stewart as Jett) tries to start up the first all-girl rock group with the help of a make-upped manager named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon., Revolutionary Road) and a baby bombshell belter (Dakota Fanning as Currie). But the presentation is just off key.

The movie wants to be an pseudo-feminist flick - with some glittery sex, drugs and rock n' roll thrown in. But it focuses far too much on the sex part. Although the girls are supposed to be barely old enough to be considered legit jail bait, there are two highly extended scenes of Fanning and Stewart sharing experimental relations to a glam rock soundtrack. Some might claim they are just poorly lit versions of reality (we don't really know exactly what happened between those two girls and their hotel room sheets, although Jett did oversee the project as exec producer), but there's a reason why these scenes are much longer than the actual musical performances. Like Cherie, who resorts to exploitative nearly-nude pics or press, this movie is too focused on sexing up the girls' image.

Director Floria Sigismondi also relies heavily on over-done We're-Teenagers-In-Leather-Pants-Hear-Us-Roar cliches. Oh my god - look they're doing coke in a airplane bathroom. Holy shit -they're drinking booze out a baby shampoo bottle. Hold the phone. Did she just piss on that dude's guitar? Shut up. They did not just get their period in the middle of an intersection.What? They parked diagonally in a spot - cause they don't believe in staying in the lines? We get it.

In general, The Runaways feels like too many rock n' roll movies we've already seen. It's like Rock Star, with tits (Rock Star-lette, I suppose). The stories are nearly identical - young impressionable kid joins in as lead singer of the band and skyrockets to super stardom, only to be sidetracked by groupies, booze and illegal substances. They also both feature excessive montages, visualizing said journey to celeb status. And in the end, they both leave the band (and their tight pants and secret eyeliner stash) behind and go back to being normal, sorta musically inclined nobodies, while the rest of the band keeps rockin'. The only difference is that this movie features real people while Rock Star is only loosely based on Judas Priest.

Speaking of eerie resemblances, Kristen Stewart could not look more like Joan Jett in this movie. Her acting, is not so strong (she just seems like Bella Swan, with heroin and a bad haircut), but the look is enough to convince you she's right for the part. Dakota Fanning, is, surprise, surprise, much more impressive as Cherie. She makes it really hard to believe she's merely a sweet, 16-year-old cheerleader in real-life. Too bad her character is really unlikeable. The movie is based on Cherie's bio (Neon Angel), so it naturally focuses in on her and her and her one-hit-wonderful story. But you spend most of the movie wishing there was more about Jett and her badass reputation.

The Runaways ends before you OD on the cheesy riot-grrl-isms and purposefully sleazy cinematography. The final scene is awesome, though. As you watch Joan dump all her party friends out to write a fucking legendary song (the once-again-immortalized-in-Crossroads classic, "I Love Rock N' Roll"), you can't help but smile - and wish that they'd made The Blackhearts instead. B

EXTRAS: A commentary track featuring Stewart, Fanning and Jett, two featurettes ("Plugged In: The Making the Film" and "The Runaways")

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