Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Love Is Pain - Reviewing The Runaways

An when I speak to you
You answer true
Or I will make you black and blue
I love to make you wait
You take the bait
I know you hate and love me too
- Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Love Is Pain

The Runaways is a gamble in more ways than one. The biopic, which tells the story of the rise and fall of the all-girl rock band that featured legendary female rocker Joan Jett, is in some ways, just like the 'experiment' that producer Kim Fowley utters the band itself to be. It features a mostly-female cast, a Hollywood standard that is usually reserved for the more formulaic 'chick flicks'. It features Dakota Fanning, who hopes to convince the audience with her performance that she is no longer the genius child actress and is believable as a naive teen who loses her soul to rock and roll. It features Twilight star Kristen Stewart, who tangles with critics and fans alike to be the anti-Bella in the slouchy, sexualized icon Joan Jett. In a lot of ways, the movie itself is much like the Runaways, who in their time were fighting to be respected and heard in a male-dominated rock scene.

Whether or not they succeed depends largely on the audience, but, like the band, I think they have a fighting chance.

The movie itself is told largely from the perspective of Cherry Curie (played perfectly by Dakota Fanning), which makes sense, since the script is based on an autobiography written by the former front girl. On the verge of womanhood, Cherry comes from a fractured home and is searching for a sense of self. She finds her inspiration in the gender-queer rock-god David Bowie (in his Ziggy Stardust glory), and when her Bridgett Bardot look lands her an audition with Joan Jett's female formed band, she finds herself thrust in the world of rock n roll with no real anchor to guide her. By her side, is Joan Jett (played with Kristen Stewart, who slouches and broods her way through with rocker authenticity), a self proclaimed 'Wild One', and distinctly different in the fact that she knows exactly who she is, what she wants, and who she is destined to become.

Shaping them both is brilliant producer Kim Fowley (strong and unforgettable Michael Shannon), who manipulates and brow beats the girls into international sensations.

The three characters weave together in a tapestry accented with distorted guitar riffs, scratchy voices, and the distinctly flavored bitterness of rock-n-roll. Though the feel itself verges too often into artsy, the movie is saved by the performances. Dakota Fanning is, as always, subtly brilliant and completely committed as the lost girl who embraces her rock identity only to lose herself in the process. Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett is a quietly bleeding protagonist, who opens herself into her music and only displays her vulnerability in her unflinching devotion to Cherry.

The relationship between the two is what propels the story forward, and it only makes sense that the last act falls slightly askew thanks to the relationship itself falling apart. When Cherry leaves the band, we're left to watch two characters floundering in the wind, and a tagged on epilogue that seems to come too fast, too soon.

Still, The Runaways is a gamble that is worth taking. It's intriguing, it's tragic, and it's blatant and not at all subtle about taking a male-dominated scene and trying to instill some tough-girl flavor in it.

After all, why should we let the guys have all the fun?

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