Who's In It: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Stella Maeve, Riley Keough, Tatum O'Neal, Johnny Lewis
The Basics: The year is 1975, and the world of rock 'n' roll is suffering from a serious lack of estrogen. That means there's room for rowdy teen girl rockers like Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), and Sandy West (Stella Maeve) to fill teenage ears with their dirty, raucous sound -- only they're missing a lead singer. Enter 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a blond Bowie freak with an alcoholic daddy who's never really sung before but looks the part. Molded by punk svengali Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), The Runaways enjoy a meteoric rise in the rock ranks with hits like "Cherry Bomb" -- until their sex 'n' drugs-fueled lifestyle wears Cherie down and threatens to break up the band for good.
What's The Deal: If you love punk rock and the grrl power behind The Runaways' music, you'll find yourself bopping along as stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning sing their way (pretty decently) through the band's greatest hits. As Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, the Twilight co-stars acquit themselves well with well-studied characterizations that capture the spirit and physicality of their real-life counterparts, Stewart all hunched and intense and Fanning the picture of '70s suburban teen ennui with her Bardot hair and platform heels. While director Flora Sigismondi keeps the biopic chugging along by chronicling The Runaways' rise and fall, their infamous Japanese tour, the brief implied sexual relationship between Currie and Jett, the band's breakup, and what happened to the two women years afterward, the film languishes at times without a clear sense of momentum to drive the story forward. Still, for fans of The Runaways, Joan Jett, and yes, even Twilight, The Runaways is enough to unleash the wannabe rock chick in all of us... at least for a few hours.
Exploitation Or Awesomeness? Depending on your view of rock impresario Kim Fowley (played delightfully off-kilter by Michael Shannon), you'll either think he was a mad genius or a skeevy older guy. Either way, exploitation was part and parcel of The Runaways and their success, though Sigismondi and her subjects would rather you think of Dakota Fanning prancing onstage in fishnets and a corset as a form of underage female empowerment. The truth is, the real life story was a little of both, so while Sigismondi doesn't shy away from depicting her teen rockers snorting enough drugs, having enough sex, and using enough foul language to garner an R rating, she never exploits her young charges as Fowley did his.
The Highest Of Highs: The best scene in The Runaways comes during the legendary Japanese concert tour when the band's hard partying ways lead to the best musical number of the film -- and subsequently, the girls' downfall. Fanning's Cherie crushes a pill, snorts it, and wanders onstage to deliver her fiercest scene yet, writhing onstage singing an electric rendition of "Cherry Bomb" wearing lingerie. It's as if she's been playing it close to the vest the whole film just so she can explode in this moment a furious ball of blonde, aggressive, sexual energy. Only Cherie Currie herself could have done it better.
What's Missing: We don't get much of Lita Ford and Sandy West, though Scout Taylor-Compton and Stella Maeve are great in their few scenes. (The filmmakers only had the rights to tell Jett and Currie's story, hence the primary focus on the two.) Alia Shawkat, playing a fictional amalgamation of various Runaways bassists, is wasted with barely a line or two thrown her way. Also virtually non-existent: negative repercussions for the girls' underage drinking, drug use, sexual promiscuity, and bad behavior, so while they may be inspired to become awesome feminist rock star dreamers from watching The Runaways, don't expect your daughters to learn how to be good little girls.