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The Runaways

a film by Floria Sigismondi

One thing is for sure while watching The Runaways, the story of Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and the titular seminal girl-power punk band. Dakota Fanning has grown the fuck up. Still not legal (the now sixteen year old starlet was a mere fifteen when filming her scenes) Fanning, in skintight latex and leather, writhes around on stage, belting out (or at least lip-synching out) the lyrics to the somewhat apocryphal Cherry Bomb, creating a veritable taboo wet dream for every skeeve-addled guy from fourteen to forty - and probably beyond. Portraying the former punk rock (via glam rock) teen queen Cherie Currie - unscrupulously man-handled (at least psychologically) by the band's lothario manager, and the very poster-child for the term jail bait - Fanning is undoubtedly and uncomfortably sexy in a way only budding pedophiles could have imagined just four years ago, when she was screaming for her daddy Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. But then, that is exactly what Cherie Curie, unwittingly or not, was all about when the Runaways hit it big in 1975. In fact the whole band was marketed as such. Lolita's in leather!

Yet as pseudo-grown-up as Fanning plays at, a sort of glam rock Carrie if you will, creating a brand new persona to ride to the bank with and flip those moral crusaders off as she goes by, the real star of the show is Twilight's Bella of the ball Kristen Stewart, as the hard-rocking future Blackheart frontwoman Joan Jett. Stealing every scene she's in with an understated brooding manner (a la Brando with breasts!) Stewart proves that she is more than just the ashen-skinned Olive Oyl to a vampiric Popeye and a lycanthropic Bluto. Much like in last year's surprising acerbic comedy Adventureland, Stewart goes beyond her tween fan base and into a whole other realm. Just like Fanning, Stewart takes charge here and struts her stuff like no one's business. And the twenty-year-old Stewart's hotness is not only smokin' but it is legal as well.

Overall the film works even outside Fanning and Stewart, and even outside their much bally-hooed about Sapphic smooch (which is made even more intense - and more erotic - by its very own age-required limitations - a sort of pre-code coitus at post-code prices) in debut director Floria Sigismondi's music video background. Working as though The Runaways was a long form music video, and taking a cue from the unexpected - silent German cinema (though more likely than not, unintentionally on Sigismondi's behalf) - the first-time feature director goes about changing perspectives, camera angles and even hues to coincide with characters moods and feelings. There is even a point where the camera acts as the eyes of Fanning's lead lolita as she is devoured by the fame of the stage. Sigismondi's film plays out almost as if it were an experimental film - a perfect concoction for such a story.

Speaking of the story itself, unfortunately we never get what is surely the real story behind the music as it were. All the requisite sex, drugs and rock & roll are here, and it is played surprisingly well by both Fanning and Stewart, but the film never goes much further than a barely R rated film can be expected to go (I am guessing the only thing that kept the PG-13 banner at arm's length was the aforementioned buzz-worthy make-out scene between Fanning and Stewart). There is, I am more than sure of, much more decadence involved with the real tale of Currie and Jett and the others. Incidentally former band members such as Lita Ford tried to stop production on the film and were in turn sued by the real life Joan Jett in order to get the film made. Perhaps they did not want this probable decadence aired in public - which ironically, it never really was. If only it had been - then imagine how up in arms all those moral crusading naysayers would be about the fifteen-year-old Fanning doing what she must do. [04/20/10]

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