I’ve never been completely sold on Kristen Stewart as an actress – she impressed everyone in Panic Room back in 2002 but has since been overshadowed by her own franchise, Twilight. But now, with the release of The Runaways, people might see the great actress that’s been buried underneath three vampire movies’ worth of pap.
Chronicling the rise and inevitable fall of 70s all-girl rock band The Runaways, Kristen Stewart plays Suzie Quatro-a-like Joan Jett, a young guitarist whose rock and roll aspirations see her paired with 15-year-old Bardot bombshell, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). The two are brought together by crazed musical impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) whose tactics for pushing the girls to their limit include screaming, ‘Now, buckle up and get ready for bootcamp, babies – you’re gonna be trained like the Viet f**king Cong.’
But with such success comes the classic trappings of fame including drugs, sex, booze and tension between band mates as Cherie’s star rises higher than her cohort’s. The more famous she becomes, the more she is tortured by the family she left behind including her put-upon sister Marie (Riley Keough) who cares for their alcoholic father.
Director/photographer Floria Sigismondi has an expert eye which captures the wild 70s haze that surrounds the band as they perform throughout the movie. Fanning’s portrayal of Currie is very engaging as she teeters between rock goddess and the little girl lost, struggling to decide where her loyalties lie – with her band or her real family. She almost nails it but she lacks the passion that drives Currie to join the band in the first place.
Stewart on the other hand has Joan Jett down pat and is utterly believable as the dykey guitarist/songwriter whose occasionally Sapphic relationship with Currie is tested by drug use and Fowley’s manipulation. Michael Shannon proves himself to be an absolute wonder as the maniacal Fowley whose eyes flash with dollar signs when he realises that he can market the girls as jailbait. Hey, sex sells.
The film is based on Currie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway so it’s more than a little biased towards Currie’s personal journey yet still manages to provide Stewart with enough material to shine as Jett. It’s wild, sexy and filled with pumped up rock and roll performances that make for an enjoyable dose of 70s nostalgia.