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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Runaways

Title: The Runaways

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: October 27th, 2010

MPAA Rating: R

This movie takes us to a world that's reserved for the few, the talented and the sometimes unfortunate. Music show business. It's the mostly true-to-life story of the popular 1970's all female rock band, The Runaways.

The first act kicks things off with the "gathering the cast together" formula. Kristen Stewart trims away her Bella Swan hairstyle to match the short-haired rocker look of Joan Jett, one of the founding members of the band. The formation plan goes into motion beginning with a chance meeting with famed record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). The initially reluctant Fowley agrees to give Jett the opportunity of a lifetime only after deducing that she could blend well with another client of his; drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve).

The pair begin the creative process leaving Fowley to invent the band's identity. He comes to the conclusion that an attractive blonde, preferably one that could sing is needed to complete the image. He and Jett cruise around different night spots before discovering their missing link. Fifteen year old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) has the right amount of attributes that meets the band's outcast image. After a few adjustments to Cherie's novice singing voice and adding some additional musicians, the band comes full circle and is ready to mark their prints on the music world.

The road to perfection isn't easy. But once they reach it, there doesn't seem to be a bar too high to jump over. The Runaways' rough n' tough music style garnered mainstream attention, including an enormous cult following in Japan. But with every goal, there is a price. The Runaways' journey separates those who can take the heat from those that need to stay out of the kitchen. And in a twisted fate of irony, the band's worst enemy may be the same person responsible for their existence.

Kim Fowley is portrayed like a real life cartoon character. Never at a loss for words and hellbent on always doing things his way, Fowley is not intimidated by obstacles. He will step over or bring down whoever or whatever when necessary. The girls' are led through his own version of boot camp where they are instructed how to deal with unruly crowds and taking advantage of their mental toughness. To these teenage outcasts, Fowley is the closest thing they have to a father. It's too bad the family is often dysfunctional. There are many situations in the movie that were exaggerated for dramatic effect. I was surprised to learn that Fowley's behavior was not one of them. If anything, it was too mild. Money and fame are more important to him than basic needs. His slaveholder personality was enough to leave me in a state of disgust. So imagine how I would have reacted had I actually witnessed his real life madness.

Beneath their tough image lies vulnerability among the Runaways' band members. Since the movie was mainly adapted through Cherie Currie's autobiography, most of what is seen focuses on her turmoil. She was born into a neglectful household. Her mother moved away to Indonesia under questionable circumstances, leaving her and older sister Marie (Riley Keough) under the care of their Aunt. The Curries' divorced father is an alcoholic in denial, unknowingly setting the tone for his daughter's reckless behavior that is considered normal socializing by her band mates.

Cherie and the band are living the life of stars like Ozzy Osbourne or Joe Walsh in their prime. All concern for their own health is set aside for the sake of the image. The band spends their nights smoking and drinking until they faint into sleep. All of the natural changes that their bodies go through during adolescence occur during their time on the road without any mentors around to help them cope. Cherie initially insists that this is the only right way to live. Despite her sister's requests to play a bigger role in her young adult life, Cherie presses on with giving all her will to the music and unwinding with the drugs, only to do it all over again the next day. While this goes on, Fowley is always envisioning the next step, counting his money and cracking his whip along the way.

Since I'm a straight-edge square that has spent 99.8% of my life sober, I can't say that I can relate very much to what these kids go through. It was heartbreaking to watch this self-destruction unfold. It's no secret that sex, drugs and rock n' roll is more than just a slogan. It was a real way of life......for adult artists. These young artists had their innocence taken away at the not so even trade-off of fame and acceptance among peers. The risk is failing to realize that fan embrace is fragile. Unconditional love is there to stay. In a moment of pretentious visual art direction, one of these girls "sees the light" just soon enough to save herself. But the damage is done and life will never be the same.

There is a gritty overtone behind the film's direction. It showcases how far some will go for the attention that is perceived to be deserved. This movie will bring some much needed diversity to Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning's careers. They are so convincing that it made me wonder if somewhere a real Kim Fowley had persuaded them to take these roles in order to shake up their own images. I understand that they are only actresses and were probably never in any real danger. But I sincerely hope the lessons that can be learned from this movie are as obvious to the artists as they should be to the audience. As the E! True Hollywood Stories have taught, Hollywood can be a very dangerous battleground.

So far, I've been painting this movie as a tragedy. It needs to be said that the Runaways' journey has also done a lot of good for them. In a scene where Joan Jett is interviewed by a radio DJ, she declares that if rock music was absent in her life, she probably would have been dead already. And as crazy as Kim Fowley may have been, he deserves some credit for realizing the "it" factor that every group needs to establish themselves to consumers. Some of The Runaways' hit singles are still played on the mainstream radio waves, several of which Fowley had major influences.

The movie doesn't discourage anyone from dreaming big. It's made to challenge people's ideas over how much is willing to be sacrificed to realize those dreams. Hanging out with a group like The Runaways is a surefire way to separate the men from the boys. Or in this case, the women from the girls. Or in deeper terms, the consumed from the unconsumed.

Rating: 8


  1. Thought you'd like this:

    -Jessica (your sister!)

  2. Thanks for the link. It was a very well written and interesting article. Nathanael, if you're reading this you should check it out.

    I'm proud to say that I have seen the majority of those films and most deserve the praise in my opinion. I probably would have added Trick R Treat to the list.

  3. I was happy to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on there.