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REVIEW: The Runaways

Disractions abound, as our critic spells out the proper way to do a biopic

The Runaways: Rates a C.
Courtesy photo.

This movie is…well…a period piece.

It’s the mid-1970s and they focus on the glam scene and Joan Jett’s early musical influences and first band.

I always find it interesting to look at all the cars. I wonder if they’ll mess up and have a 2005 vehicle drive by. Then I usually get mad, because in this, I see a teenager driving a brand new Camaro and wonder how they bought it. I wonder if people watch movies that take place in the '50s, and wonder how the kids all bought these hot rods; and then played chicken with them for “pink slips” or to drive one off a cliff. Yeah, right.

The cars parked on the streets and in the parking lots, are really shiny. It’s like the filmmakers called Jay Leno or some museum, and they supplied the vehicles. They’re all in nice condition. You don’t see a Pacer or Gremlin with a bad paint job or a dent in the side.

But none of that distracts from this relatively interesting little picture.

Kristen Stewart flat out nails it as Joan Jett, in both her look and vocals (even Jett said in she couldn’t tell the difference when she sang).

Dakota Fanning plays the drug addicted singer, Cherrie Curry. And as I watch Curry go from being a 15-year-old tapped to sing and do magazine spreads scantily dressed, I wondered if Fanning was going down a similar path. I remember a few years back she did a rape scene with an adult male. I think she was 12 at the time. I couldn’t help but wonder how these performances will affect her in real life. One thing I do know: the kid can act.

And while I’m on the subject of the cast…who ever thought to get Tatum O’Neal to play the mom of Cherrie is a genius.

Michael Shannon does a great job as svengali producer Kim Fowley, yelling at the girls and uttering things like, “This isn’t about women’s lib, but women’s libido!”

He also lectures them on how they need to be more rebellious. Well, I felt the movie needed to be as well. This wasn’t The Buddy Holly Story. It was about some teen girls that were arguably the first all-female rock band (my friend Gregory Page, a local musician, would surely argue; his mom was in the Beat Chicks, an all-girl group that opened for The Beatles).

Fowley is a character even today, strutting the Sunset Strip with his green hair and cane. Although, it makes me think a much more interesting movie could’ve been made about Malcolm McLaren, who died last week. He put together my favorite '80s band Bow Wow Wow, as well as the Sex Pistols and a few other groups. Get some screenwriters on this!

The weirdest casting was Robert Romanus as Jett’s guitar teacher. Of course you know who he is.

As he tried to get her to sing “On top of old smokey…” I thought I recognized his voice. And just as I recognized the voice of the bald producer in Ray (it was Curtis Armstrong, better known as Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), this guy was the voice that once sang a string of Cheap Trick tunes in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yep, Damone the ticket scalper. Last I saw him he was playing a boyfriend on The Facts of Life.

The Runaways was written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, who I knew nothing about. She’s a music video director, which explains the great concert footage. It doesn’t explain the borrowing from Sid and Nancy, The Doors and a few other rock films. Although, in Sigismondi’s defense, a lot of rock stories are the same old song and dance.

I only knew two Runaway songs going into this movie (Cherry Bomb and Queens of Noise). You won’t find a better collection of songs in a movie this year. There was lots of Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nick Gilder, MC5, Suzie Quartro, Gary Glitter and Joan Jett, of course.

The most interesting song was Peggy Lee’s Fever, which singer Cherrie thinks would be the best thing to sing in her audition. It goes badly.

And as Fowley and Jett make her wait outside the trailer they practice in, they write Cherry Bomb on the spot. It made me wonder how much of the stories in this were true. I’m guessing a lot weren’t. In fact, I know a few of them aren’t (like Cherrie being booed at a school talent show, which in her book she says she won).

She was just in San Diego signing copies of her book a few weeks ago. It makes me wish I would’ve gone to ask her about the discrepancies of the film. Much like Cadillac Records (which I loved), lots of characters were left out. In this case, band members of The Runaways.

My message to Hollywood would be this: If the subject doesn’t have an interesting enough story, don’t make a movie about them. You can’t just leave characters out, or create interesting fictional ones, so you have a more entertaining movie. Enough with the biopics if this is what happens.

It makes it harder for me to forgive the many, many horrid clichés this movie is filled with. One clichéd scene that other films have done (most memorable in a Wayne’s World picture) was having a few people purposely throw rocks, cans, and dog poo at them as they rehearsed. Yeah, right.

And, much like my car pet peeve mentioned earlier, I have another regarding how people talk in period pieces. They had a line in this about a “crook in the White House.” I always feel these are little ways for them to remind us what year it is. And it always seems forced.

In Almost Famous, there’s a goofy line like, “Do you think Mick Jagger is going to be doing this when he’s 60?!” The audience laughed, but it distracts from a movie and characters we’re trying to accept as real.

As I said, I only knew two Runaway songs before the movie. When it ended, I still only knew those two songs. I felt it could’ve been more informative on many levels. There seems to be a great story that was just wanting to get out.

As much as I enjoyed watching Jett jump on her couch in underwear to I Love Rock ‘n Roll (it beats Tom Cruise doing that to Bob Seger)…there just aren’t enough of these scenes.

I remember reading that the drummer died a few years ago. No mention of that in the closing credits, when they list what the band is up to currently.

Also… what happened to Lita Ford? There was nothing in the closing that said what she is doing. She had some solo hits (and a popular ballad with Ozzy Osbourne). Does Joan Jett, who was also the executive producer, have a beef with her? And if so, the movie was negligent in not writing what she did after the band broke up. Heck, we learned Cherrie is now a chainsaw artist (that sounds like a profession one of the Spinal Tap members would’ve said in their closing scene).

I enjoyed so many aspects of The Runaways. I just think people that aren’t obsessive music fans like me probably won’t. I can only give it a C.

Side Note: In Roger Ebert’s review (he gave the film 3 out of 4 stars), he mentioned Joan Jett approaching him in an airport and saying she liked the movie he wrote (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). I met Joan Jett, but it’s not much of a story. She ended up sending me a Christmas card at the radio station I worked for. A funnier story involves Lita Ford. Her record label asked if we’d be interested in a phone interview. We said yes, and she didn’t call into our morning show. When I went back to my office when our show was over, I heard five messages from her. She had lost the studio number, and when she finally called the operator and asked for me, they transferred her to my office instead of the studio. She sounded drunk as she kept saying, “Hello? Hello? Josh, are you there? We’re supposed to do an interview.”