dispatch: sxsw

The Runaways Is A Bomb, And Not A Cherrybomb

Our SXSW correspondent Daniel Villarreal caught the red carpet premiere of The Runaways. And mostly regrets it. Bad news, everyone. Remember The Runaways, the new film, opening wide this weekend, about Joan Jett and Cherie Currie that features a steamy lesbian kiss? It shoulda been a rockin’, subversive film that showed the groundbreaking band’s contribution to female rock… but it’s not. It’s pretty awful, actually, which makes us ultra-sad because after seeing Currie on the red carpet in her black biker boots, we were excited about seeing queer rockers kick the crap out of the male rock turds. But instead the film’s way off-key and oh so guilty of bad writing, flat characters, and succumbing to the very sexism it’s supposedly against. Before we hit on the film’s unforgivably bad points, let us give props to its accomplishments. The film starts with a drop of Cherie Currie’s menstrual blood hitting the asphalt… a stunning and provocative start! Director Floria Sigismondi has shot many beautiful scenes, and Kristen Stewart’s wonderful as Joan Jett, the perfect combination of brooding and angry. But 16-year-old Dakota Fanning is sadly out of her element. She’s been on a kick transitioning from child star roles to her adult career, but she may be getting too serious too quickly. At age 14, she was savagely raped in Hounddog, and now she’s snorting pills, sexing, and rocking in a way we don’t completely buy. She looks great, but doesn’t fully own it. Here are the film’s biggest problems. (Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.)
IT’S GENERIC Sigismondi’s script reduces the male-female world to two unsophisticated halves. All men are sex-driven pig dogs. There’s Cherie’s alcoholic dad; The Runaways’ abusive and megalomaniacal manager; countless dickhead musicians who don’t want girls playing electric guitars; and even Cherie’s boss at the end of the film tells her not to take business calls on personal time. The women aren’t any better. They’re either completely subservient to man-slaves—like Cherie’s sister who stays at home to care for their dad, Cherie’s mother who moves away to follow her future hubby to Indonesia—or they’re snorting drugs, getting fucked, or throwing shit (like, totally rock and roll). But even the rocking and rolling seems mostly reactive (i.e. because of the abuse) rather than coming from some deeper character. Plus, the film has all the stock scenes: Currie accuses her actress mother of being fake, gets stood up by dad on her birthday, deals with a sister who’s jealous of her success, gets sexually exploited by fashion photographers, and ends up tragically washed up on drugs. The writing telegraphs everything that’s going to happen just before it does, and does it in the most unexciting way possible. All scenes that you’ve watched in other movies re-heated and served with a side of music.
IT’S EXPLOITATIVE Near the end of the film, when Joan Jett discovers that Cherrie has taken sexy photos for a Japanese magazine, she’s furious and basically says, “Sell the music, not your pussy.” It’d be more powerful if the movie hadn’t spent the entire hour before that showing the girls jumping around in their undies, splashing about in the pool, and wearing corsets, stockings, and torn t-shirts that really show off their goods. Can a film about exploitation be non-exploitative? Yes, but only if it gives its characters intelligence enough to turn the exploitation against their exploiters. The Runaways never gets there.


IT’S NOT AT ALL SUBVERSIVE Here’s the worst part. Because the characters are all flat, they’re not given much of a backstory or a soul. We never really learn what drives Currie and Jett to make rock-and-roll (well, besides a bunch of male jerks). And because they’re making music as reaction to douchebags instead of as a celebration of themselves, they’re not revolutionaries, they’re reactionaries. The director seems to think that their heroism has to do with their number of fans and the number of men they defy, but none of the men are worthy adversaries and all of the fans create a big amorphous screaming mass devoid of any character.

Worst of all, the director aligns the steamy lesbian kiss between Jett and Currie with another scene of Currie crushing a pill with her high heel and then snorting it off stage. Both scenes get washed in a bright red light that signifies a sordid, tawdry scene and a loss of innocence for Currie. All the other sex in the film gets used as a punchline (one of the business managers breaks a table while fucking on a business call, their manager talks endlessly about sex in a cheesy uninspiring ways). And even when Currie gets booed offstage for playing Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” in a high school talent show, it’s mostly because her show’s boring, not because she’s gender-bending.

It’s a shame because the movie had such potential to shed a light on the millions of ways these young women used their sexuality to subvert all expectations in a male dominated world. It might have even show why it was so important for these women to make music in the first place and made their journey, a personal triumph as well, maybe even one inspiring enough to encourage other female artists to do the same. But alas, it looks like an uncreative str8 dude directed it.

RATING: One out of five quaaludes. If you want true subversion, go rent Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways, the 2004 documentary that covered the same material in a much more revealing way.

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  • Chris Porter

    Funny considering everyone else has given it and Dakota’s performance raving reviews.

  • Lisa23

    Finally, someone saw the same crap I saw! I graduated in 1977 so I can tell you my friends and I didn’t like them because the message was a hate of men not a celebration of Rock-N-Roll. I know Heart and Stevie Nicks weren’t in an all girl lesbian band but these woman shaped our lifes! Not to mention we had some great male bands.

  • edgyguy1426

    bad writing flat characters and Kristin Stewart tend to go together. You can’t have one without the other 2.

  • WarpedRecord

    I don’t care, I’m seeing it anyway. But I suspect you’re right, and you sound like a fan. Music biopics inevitably aren’t geared toward the band’s fans but a new generation with different priorities (not always musical ones, either), and this looks like another casualty.

    I’m glad you mentioned “Edgeplay,” which would have been perfect had it featured:
    1) Joan Jett
    B) Actual Runaways music

  • big_red737


    Saw this movie yesterday. I liked it but it wasn’t great. I thought the performances by Stewart and Fanning were very good but the script was not. I agree that it was a bit flat. There was very little mention of back stories, little mention of other band members and it went from the band playing gigs in bars and roller skating rinks, to getting signed, to touring very quickly. We did not see the rise in their fame or recognition so it felt odd and unauthentic that they were already this famous. I thought the music was good, Stewart and Fanning did their own singing and pulled it off well, I thought.

  • Eric C.

    Wow, I just came from the movie. Watched The Runaways. What a movie. You should never will (or at least this week) watch any romantic comedy again. It is a waste of your brain cells.
    The director of photography Benoit Debie in charge of the camera- his work is is a masterpiece! The close captures of let’s say dog’s poop. A high heel cracking the pill, Dakota’s character fainting in the elevator, the car (!!!) genius) that take them on the tour parked up the ramp, as if it was a warning ,a symbol of quick possibility of falling back. That film can be watch just to learn what professional cameras can do, pure art, .What a vision- close view into the eyes of the musicians. Art at the highest. The director Floria Sigismondi—deserves an Oscar. She does not exploit the girls. That famous for being famous kissing scene is nothing, done in shades, nothing to it. Believe me ,I was afraid for hard core heterosexual scenes with drugged musicians – that did not happened either .
    The best actor for me—is Michael Shannon, or maybe his role is just well written. Dakota is superb. Kristen is almost too pretty to be a real butch, compose , stoic. Clear leader. When she smiles- all that upper middle class girl , child comes out. She looks very innocent. Very believable. The girls were not monsters but regular girls. The camera, yes, I am In love with the camera crew- shots from above, angles. As for emotions: I have cried twice and laughed about three times. I was glued to the chair. Too bad it is R rated. All girls should see it. And if the girls sung themselves- the are gifted. It gives you felling of being at the concert. I do not know who sung what because voices bland together. It is such emotional drama, elegantly made, energizing but without sentiments. Real life story objectively presented. Real music movie. Too short for me.

  • benni

    hi to e bietiful

  • terrwill

    Had a friend, Dennis who got hooked on the Runaways a few years back. He got a tat of a cherry to show his devotion to all things Joan Jett, however it came out looking like a tomato….. : p…….Unfortunatley Dennis (only 22) is proof that AIDS still does kill our community and he passed away………He would have been in his glory with this movie……. :'{

  • Klarth

    I’m sorry. @ Terrwill

    For myself, I want to hear Kristen Stewart utter that line anout selling the music. I really do.

    It’s too bad that this film ended being a letdown. I wonder if it’s because the material was mishandled, or actually too accurate, as Lisa23 suggests.

  • Maniac

    this film, as it has been said many times before, is NOT the story of The Runaways. it focuses on the relationship between Currie, Jett, and Fowley. and regardless if it seems like the typical rock n roll movie, that shit really happened, its not just some made up script, The Runaways went through all that shit, and they still kicked ass. The Runaways were the 4th most popular band in japan, behind led zepplin, abba, and kiss. Theres no questioning how good they were. The main point of the movie is to follow your own path, to not let other people dictate your life. if you want the real true story of The Runaways, read Cherie’s book, i have and it really is a story of survival. the movie was amazing, for the 2 years it depicts of the runaways life, there are some really cool events that would have been awesome on screen, but otherwise, it is an epic movie.

  • Maniac

    oh, and @ Eric.C, Dakota and Kristen both did all their own singing and Kristen played guitar, there were no voice overs.

  • GODD

    @Lisa23: Lisa 23 is typing this same crap on every page about The Runaways. Makes me wonder if this dumb bitch is Lita ” The Loser” Ford.

  • PgUp1965

    This movie is NOT a biopic. This movie is NOT the Joan Jett story. So, if you’re looking for a biopic or the Joan Jett story, keep waiting. This is based on Cherie Currie’s time in the Runaways. Only an idiot would call this movie a “biopic”. I was a fan of the Runaways and first saw them when I was 13. While I found this movie very interesting, a lot was lacking. I know it’s impossible to put 3.5 years into a 100 minute movie, so it’s forgivable that so much is missing. Anything shorter than 8 hours of fast-paced cinematics would still not show the big picture. My older brother would go the Rodney’s and I remember him talking about Joan Jett like she was a rock star and that was before the Runaways even started. Whether they know it or not, those chicks inspired a lot of kids (mostly boys) to start bands. I know a lot of guys gave them shit, but, those same boys were going home and trying to start bands because they were secretly inspired. Those chicks also scared the crap out of a lot of guys, too. Sandy just looked like a “don’t fuck with me” kinda girl with those huge drummer arms. Jett had a reputation for turning guys down while a the same time being buddies with Aerosmith, Sid Vicious, The Ramones and seemingly, scary dudes like Darby Crash and Johnny Rotten character. She was nice and talented, but, pretty much hung with a circle of guys that were considered dangerous, heroin addicts and alcoholics. She had a stigma surrounding her as being a tough girl and anytime you heard about a musician being murdered or suicide, you find out they were good friends with her; like when Sid allegedly killed his girlfriend and overdosed or when she produced the GI album for The Germs and later Darby ends up OD on heroin. Girls hated her for hanging out with their crushes and boys hated her for not being interested. To put it nicely, Lita and Jackie were stuck up bitches and nobody cared about them.

  • Pati

    I have to disagree with your review. I just watched the movie recently and thought it was well done(not over the top/ in your face)
    I thought the filming was good, the acting was good(not overt-seemed real) Sure there are cliche’s but life is full of them.
    I’m in the same age group as HJoan Jett so I felt the scenes felt uite real to me.
    I hope it made folks realize it takes guts to do something as brave as being in an all girl rock(especially in the 70’s)
    Takes guts if your a guy too.
    I’m not gay but found the movie’s girl scenes erotic and lovely…and real.
    You don’t have to hit people over the head to make a point-DO YOU?
    Enjpy the movie with an opened mind.

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