"I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are": THE RUNAWAYS

I may be going out on a limb when I say this, but THE RUNAWAYS, Floria Sigismondi's adaptation of the book NEON ANGEL by Cherie Currie (with obvious input from other sources as well), which details the rise and fall of the all-girl rock group, is an hour and forty-five minutes of exhilarating storytelling experimentation within a genre that has become all too stale in recent years.  What some may see as lacking in forms of context, I think is invigorating.  There are things that Sigismondi all but ignores in the film, mainly in the way she handles the exact level of fame the group achieves, that leave an enigmatic and half-baked feeling, but gets a whole hell of a lot more bang for her buck in terms of character and feel.  This is a film as preoccupied with the aesthetics of storytelling as it is with actually telling the story of five young girls who grew to be one of the most important rock acts of all time.

Kristen Stewart is Joan Jett, and Dakota Fanning is Currie.  Both are unbelievably good, with Fanning carrying a lot of the film's emotional weight, and performing a fairly provocative role at the same age as her real-life counterpart when the group started.  The relationship between the two girls is explored in reasonable depth, but plenty is left floating out in the ether, too, which I rather appreciated.  It left me thinking about them a whole lot after the film was over, and how amazing it was that this band happened at all given its totally disparate band members.  As the film (and the book) make pretty clear, a lot of that had to do with producer Kim Fowley, who coaches the girls on how to think with their cocks, exploit male physical attraction, and defend themselves against stage debris, all while helping them write songs and create an on-stage presence.  The Runaways as an all-girl rock band may have been Jett's idea, but there is no doubt that they were Fowley's baby.

There's an amazing sequence mid-way through the film where Jett and Currie hook up while on tour.  It's not really anything explicit, but all of the eroticism and drug-fuelled desire of it really makes it stand out. The scene's all reds and blacks and flesh, and the constant throbbing of Iggy Pop.  It's one of the closest approximations to the feel of passionate sex I think I've ever seen, and all while basically showing a lot of close-ups of arms and one very quick and smoky kiss between the two girls.  And, better yet, the fact that it is two girls isn't played up at all - it's all completely natural and un-attention grabbing, which may be why it really hasn't been mentioned much by the press.  What I like here is the expressionism of the scene.  It's all about mood and not about act.  And it works.

And that's not the only time the film plays around with things.  Rather intentionally or unintentionally, the only time there's a taste of how big the group has actually gotten is its foray into Japan, where Curry dons her famous leggings and corset, and even that is basically relegated to a performance of "Cherry Bomb" and a scene in the dressing room when a group of screaming fans breaks through the glass door and chases the girls down.

Otherwise, the film focuses on drug use, battling egos (especially Curry's of mythological proportions), and girls raising hell.  It's not perfect, but I like this approach to detailing the rise and fall of such a misunderstood and important band in the history of rock music as The Runaways really and truly are.  By the time the fall part of it all comes around, it's not quite as big a shock because you've already witnessed the girls at each others' throats for the last half hour, and the battle between Cherie's loyalty to her work and to her family at home, and it all flows logically and never becomes completely routine.

The performances in the film are all pretty great, but I was particularly impressed with the two leads.  Stewart and Fanning are pretty great as Jett and Curry, and have an energy that buoys the film throughout.  Fanning has really come into her own as an actress, and she does some great work here, adding real psychological depth to a character that could have easily been treated like a cartoon.  As for Stewart, I've known since PANIC ROOM that she had the ability to seriously act in her somewhere, but all of her post-stardom work (even in ADVENTURELAND, which I like quite a bit) seems to consist of the same boredom infused lip biting that makes up so much of the character of Bella in TWILIGHT.  Apparently all it takes to make her act is to put her in something she actually gives a toss about.

A quick word about Michael Shannon, too, the fabulous actor who really wowed me back in 2006 in William Friedkin's BUG.  His portrayal of Kim Fowley is spot-on, flawless really, and backed up 100% by interview footage of the real Fowley and Joan Jett at the time.  But it transcends mere impersonation, and he really comes into his own with the character of Kim - someone who is flamboyant, racy and really couldn't give a shit.  He is fantastic.  Michael Shannon is one to keep your eyes on.

I don't think I've really done this film justice here.  I really loved it.  Is it perfect?  No, it's not, but I'll take imperfect and interesting any day over glossy perfection that just bores me to tears.  Seriously, in my honest opinion, THE RUNAWAYS is worth seeing just for that Stewart/Fanning sequence with Iggy Pop.  That's pure cinema, and you can't say that about many other biopics out there.

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