Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Runaways Isn’t a Runaway Success

If Almost Famous had a director fresh out of film school, this is what might have happened.

"The Runaways" begins with a simple, static shot. A platform heel, heat rising off the concrete and then a dark red splash, a cherry bomb if you will, drops on the sidewalk. The source of the single crimson droplet? Blood. And where's it coming from? Between Dakota Fanning's young thighs. In case you were unsure, you are now pointedly aware that what you're about to embark on is a slightly ill-fated coming-of-age story.

Based on Cherie Currie's memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, the film follows a young Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Currie (Dakota Fanning), during the founding, rise and fall of the first all-girl rock band, The Runaways. If you've seen any rock biopic, you know the clichés "The Runaways" will dole out; broken families, the allure of fame at all costs, Valhalla decadence at every turn, in-fighting, egos, ODs, and eventual implosion. What writer-director Floria Sigismondi attempts to do so things stay fresh is focus on the love and friendship between the two young girls. Obviously, by saying "attempts," we mean it's not a total success.

While Stewart and Fanning give admirable performances as sexually-charged, angst-ridden, fight-for-your-right-to-rock young women, Sigismondi is lost in her own lens. Best known for directing music videos, particularly Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People," her imagery is luxuriously drawn in shags and polyesters, alluringly capturing a mid-70s time capsule. But Sigismondi trades storytelling for art, making long stretches of the film feel like unedited music video footage where aesthetic takes priority over plot.

Thankfully, even Sigismondi can't drag down Michael Shannon, whose portrayal of the band's bombastic, hilariously tyrannical, manic Svengali of a manager makes the film worth the price of admission. With beautiful visuals, an excellent cast and an outstanding soundtrack, "The Runaways," much like the band it portrays, is filled with unrealized potential and is ultimately sabotaged by the person entrusted to captain the ship.

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