Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  And alcohol, though that goes in line with the drugs.  Such is the life of a rocker, living large, yet reaching that dropping point sooner than one would think.

Such is the case of the Runaways, an all-girl rock band formed in 1975, where Bowie was one such possible escape for drug-addled youth.  Joan Jett, a rhythm guitarist, partnered with Sandy West, a drummer, on the advice of Kim Fowler, a manager who continually looks for the next big thing.  The idea of an all-girl rock band excites him immensely.  They eventually add a guitarist and bass player (Lita Ford and a fictional bass player, as none of the original from the band signed their life story over for the movie), and all they needed was one final piece: a blond to front the band.  Enter Cherie Currie: a fifteen-year-old who has the look of a rock goddess.  Her stare is deadly.  Fowley wants her and has her, and now all that needs to be done is to mold her into the perfect lead singer for this rock and roll band.

The movie comes off as more or less a standard biopic of a band that came and went rather quickly: they formed in 1975 and broke up in 1979, and toured relentlessly until then.  The movie covers the band itself until Cherie leaves, shortly after the 1977 Japan tour, which caused a large amount of tension between Cherie and the rest of the band.  A photo-op for a Japanese magazine uses only Cherie that Fowley set up only for her and not the rest of the band, to which the band finds out while in Japan.  Tensions are heightened as well because of Cherie’s increasing drug addiction: she’s the only one who really couldn’t handle it.  She’s the fresh face to the music scene, and after an overdose in Japan, she’s had enough, at least of the band and the life on the road.  She’s almost become like her father: a constant alcoholic who sleeps in his car and never comes home.  At least Cherie has her sister, who’ll keep her going, even when she’s trying to get herself back on her feet.

Her story is contrasted with Joan Jett, who rocks hard and knows how to.  She has no family, save for the one on the streets and a random house she lives in.  She’s out there to prove herself as an electric guitarist: an early music teacher tells her that girls don’t play electric guitar (she proves him wrong in her own way).  The Runaways becomes her jumping point onto the world.  She rocks harder and more ferociously than any man she knows, and she has the all-female band to back it up.  She drinks and smokes, but she stays on her feet.  After the Runaways, she goes solo and sells millions, and on her own no less.  She becomes the success in the rock and roll mess, while Cherie becomes the failure, washed up on drugs and alcohol in too short a time.

Like I said, this is standard biopic fair.  The story is straightforward, and somewhat predictable, but it’s what you would expect from biographical movies.  The highlight of this movie though comes from the performances of Kristen Stewart (Joan Jett), Dakota Fanning (Cherie Currie), and Michael Shannon (Kim Fowley).  Stewart can act, that’s a no brainer (see Into the Wild and Adventureland for proof), and performs excellently as Joan Jett.  She plays guitar and sings quite well (if she does do so: the bands performances might have been scripted for the film, but when she’s on her own, she shreds hardcore).  Fanning is practically unrecognizable and is terrific throughout.  I’m continually amazed at how she takes chances with roles like this (she had another huge risk taker several years back, called Hounddog, where she plays a young girl who is continually abused and is actually raped towards the end of the movie).  She is definitely brave for taking these adult oriented roles.  And Shannon, as Fowley, is quite good.  He’s covered in make up the entire time and acts either drug-laced or just insane.  He pushes the girls hard to become rock and roll legends.

There is one other highlight to mention, and that’s the music.  The soundtrack is excellent throughout, from the use of the Runaways back catalog to other punk rock hits (plus the occasional 70s soft rock ballad that welcomes or ends Cherie’s innocence and introduces her to life as a rock star).

Not bad altogether.  See it for the music and the performances.

B

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