The aptly-titled song Cherry Bomb was perhaps The Runaways‘ biggest hit during their brief existence on the musical landscape and it’s a fitting image for this explosive, passionate, and hyper-sexual film. Director Floria Sigismondi, in what is only her second film, brings the story of Joan Jett’s first musical foray to life and the results are satisfying.
For those who are unfamiliar with the band, The Runaways were a 1970s all-female hard rock group. The all-female band is a rare commodity today, and even more so at that point in rock’s history. Standing front and center were two figures-guitarist and backup vocalist Joan Jett and lead vocalist Cherie Currie-who helped to rocket the outfit to temporary stardom with such hits as Cherry Bomb, Queens of Noise, and Born to Be Bad.
Currie was, in fact, not a founding member. In 1975, producer Kim Fowley introduced Jett to drummer Sandy West and the two teamed up with singer/bassist Micki Steele to form a trio. Soon after, the band began performing in the Los Angeles area. Later that year, however, they added guitarist Lita Ford and Currie to the lineup. Steele then exited the group (eventually joining 1980s pop sensation The Bangles), with bassist Jackie Fox eventually taking over bass duties. At last, the lineup that would go on to record their self-titled debut that would hit the scene one year later in 1976 was in place.
It is this story that Sigismondi and Jett herself, who acts as executive producer, attempt to bring to the screen. Creative license was necessarily employed as Jackie Fox declined to give permission to allow her personage to be portrayed in the film, and the fictional character Robin stands in as the bassist, but the change is virtually unnoticeable as the film gives very little attention to the band members beyond Jett and Currie.
There are, after all, only so many minutes to tell the story and it’s important to focus on what is essential. However, it would’ve been nice for the script to have fleshed out the other characters and to have allowed the audience to get to know them. Aside from a few brief cuts to close ups and one impressive confrontation in the recording studio, the supporting band members are more for decoration than anything else, sitting idly by most of the time looking lonely and left out. This criticism aside, though, the film is stylistically competent and effectively dramatizes what is essentially an episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music.”
Kristen Stewart does well as Jett, putting everything she has into the role of the tough, leather-wearing, sexually ambivalent rock n’ roll goddess. She seems comfortable and in command of the character, presumably having received the real Joan Jett’s approval before being cast in the role. Likewise, the underrated Michael Shannon is great as the quirky, unstable, androgynous (in a David Bowie kind of way) producer Kim Fowley.
However, it is Dakota Fanning, as Currie, who steals the show. She is electric. She is under age and sexual and wanting desperately to show the world that she can play more mature roles. In fact, despite having Jett’s name stamped all over this thing, it is actually Currie’s story, as she descends into a typical-and yet still tragic-adventure of too many drugs at too young of an age, with no restraints or guidance. In the end, she just can’t hold it together and her life, and career, fall apart. (The real Currie, realizing this, eventually got out of the music business all together. Interestingly enough, she now works as a wood sculptor. Her tool of choice is the chainsaw. Not sure exactly what that says about her as a person, but it’s got to say something.)
The Runaways is a well done film about one of the first major players in the world of girl rock. It is not flawless. It lacks a degree of depth and the genre’s been done better in such films as Ray and Walk the Line. But while it may not be a homerun, Sigismondi has effectively managed to put a man on third, a respectable play in its own right. Rock fans and casual moviegoers alike should be entertained, provided you’re not offended by the sexual imagery and drug use.
Rated R for language, drug use, and sexual content-all involving teens.