The history of rock and roll is littered with bands who briefly burned bright and fierce, momentarily capturing the public’s attention before flaming out equally as fast, and as quickly forgotten. Many of their stories chart similar courses, flavored by the various participants involved. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell if the tale of the Los Angeles group of rock and roll Lolitas, the Runaways, is interesting or not, because the new movie chronicling their meteoric rise and equally swift fall can’t seem to decide what story it wants to tell.
The Runaways is a rambling affair, never quite settling on what it wants to be the focus of its story. Is it interested in the story of band? Guitarist and co-founder Joan Jett? Lead singer Cherie Currie? Jett’s and Currie’s friendship? It tried to be a bit of each at various times, but the end result is definitely less than the sum of its parts. Presumably, the movie is supposed to be about Currie, as it is based on her memoir Neon Angel. Strictly speaking, Currie seems to get the most screen time and we see the effects of quick fame on her the most. But if this is to be the rock and roll cautionary tale it suggests it is at time, why do we only see the negative side of the girls’ hard partying and drug use impacting only Currie when we are shown Jett living it up just as hard?
The film’s title, however, would lead one to believe it is the story of the whole band which it definitely is not. As a document about the whole band, the movie fails dramatically. After their introduction, the other three girls in the group are quickly regulated into the background, nothing more than glorified extras. They only re-emerge for the few times when the script needs them to heighten the drama and tensions between everyone. Jett gets more screen time than a supporting character usually does, but the part doesn’t seem to be quite as strong a presence in the film to be a true co-lead. It feels as like the filmmakers wanted to tell Currie’s story, but pumped up the character of Jett just enough to help market the movie better.
Ultimately, it is the film’s lack of cohesion that makes it difficult to engage with anything happening on the screen.
Despite its haphazard organization, the film gives plenty of material for Dakota Fanning to draw from for her performance as Cherie. As Jett, Stewart manages to find a bit of life in an underdeveloped and underwritten character. (At least her time in the Twilight series has taught her something.) While we see much of Currie’s home life which drives her character, we barely get a glimpse of Jett’s background.
The most interesting character turns out to be the theatrical and quite possibly just a bit crazy record producer Kim Fowley, the Svengali behind the band’s success. The always dependable and versatile Michael Shannon plays him with gusto, but stops just short of making him cartoony. Unfortunately, the character is not on screen enough to save the film or make it worth recommending.