Monday, April 26, 2010

More 'The Runaways' Reviews added (Part 1)

| Part 2 |



Here are the FIRST reviews of 'The Runaways'!!!!!

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read. :)

REVIEWS

•• Hitfix, Melinda Newman: It’s hard to believe that 35 years ago a girl with a guitar was a scandalous thing. If nothing else, “The Runaways” provides a little historical perspective on a time not so long ago when aggressive axe-wielding female musicians were seen as a threat to their male counterparts. But instead of celebrating the Runaways’ pioneering achievements and influence, the movie comes across as a cautionary tale about what happens when teenage girls run wild.

“The Runaways,” which centers on the relationship between Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), premiered at Sundance Sunday night, but with Apparition already signed on as distributor, the movie played here mainly to drum up excitement prior to its March 19 wide release.

The film does a masterful job of showing how the band, which started as five questionably talented outcasts in Los Angeles with ambitions that far outweighed their abilities, zoomed to stardom on a bullet train steered by producer/manager Kim Fowley.Even at the group’s height, the Runaways’ passion, verve and raw appeal surpassed its talent (with the possible exception of guitarist Lita Ford, who did not cooperate with the making of the movie). Cult hit “Cherry Bomb,” written on the fly as an audition piece for Currie if the movie is to be believed, was all tease and come ons strung together with simple rhymes and a few chord changes in the best tradition of punk.

The four years from the band’s inception to its 1979 implosion pass in a blur as Fowley keeps the Runaways working at a breakneck pace, including a tour of Japan where they arrived to screaming, hysterical fans. If the band enjoyed one moment of its run, even the joy of playing on stage, it certainly doesn’t come across here on film. Instead, it seems as if the time passed in drug-addled haze with the young teenagers never having a moment to savor its success or take a breather before Fowley thrust them back on the treadmill. Quite frankly, if the ride was as desultory as it comes across in the movie, it’s a miracle the band lasted as long as it did.

Jett is all leather-clad testosterone, while Currie is a fragile, estrogen-fueled flower. And in many ways, it’s that contrast that fuels the band as much as it destroys it as the other band members become either jealous of Currie’s sex kitten image, totally created and later exploited by Fowley, or feel her plaything, come- hither stance, complete with corset and thigh-high stockings, undermines their musical credibility. The seemingly brief affair--or is it just sexual experimenting-- between Jett and Currie is played out in blurry cutaways and there’s never a conversation or even a knowing look between the pair over their night spent together.

Stewart’s Jett is an intense teen who seldom smiles, but who knows what she wants and that’s to play her electric guitar. Gruff and sullen, she nevertheless has drive to spare and its her vision as much as Fowley’s that propels the band. Stewart, who, like Fanning, does her own singing and playing, sounds and looks remarkably like Jett. It’s one of her strongest performances so far as she captures Jett’s fierce work ethic and undiluted desire to play music free of gimmicks. Plus, we see her toughening exterior and gritty determination as the band withstands various assaults.

Fanning’s Currie is a tentative creature so wounded by her absentee, alcoholic father and jet setting mother (an effective Tatum O'Neal) that she grabs onto the rope thrown to her by the Runaways before she has time to figure out if it is a lifeline or a sinking anchor. Fanning, who looks like a younger Kate Hudson, seems to struggle more with the role than Stewart, but that could be because the 15-year-old Currie was less grounded than Jett and Fanning has decided to play that fragility filtered through a woozy drug coma for much of the movie. Plucked by Fowley out of a nightclub to audition for the band, Fanning portrays Currie as a lost soul, whose only way to fight against Fowley and the unrelenting machine is to quit the band.

Michael Shannon, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in “Revolutionary Road” is the stand-out here, but that’s also because he gets to chew the scenery as the larger-than-life Fowley. He reminds the girls that this isn’t about “women’s lib, it’s about women’s libido,” that “rock and roll is a blood sport,” and many other profane turns of phrase we can’t print here. It’s nearly impossible to play Fowley as over-the-top, obnoxious and creepy as he is in real life, but Shannon nails it. Also impressive is Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter, as Cherie's left-behind twin, Marie.

Director Floria Sigismondi, who also wrote the screenplay based on Currie’s autobiography “Neon Angel,” is best known as a music video director (Sheryl Crow, David Bowie) and photographer. She has a keen eye, as one would expect, and the concert footage looks authentic, but the movie often resembles a montage of stylized, gauzy photos and stand-alone snapshots that don’t hang together cohesively and jarringly bump against each other with no transition from one to the next. Plus, we see little character development—unless being perpetually gorked or petulant count as growth-- as Currie, and to a lesser extent Jett, go through these life-altering changes. This is their story and both Currie and Jett, who executive produced, coached the young stars playing them, so presumably, they are happy with the dark, raw portrayal of their short-lived super nova, but both would have been served better by more fully-fleshed out characterizations.

The movie doesn’t have to deal with each of the band members equally, but the fact that there are screen updates at the end on Jett, Currie and Fowley with no mention whatsoever of Ford’s post-Runaways success or that drummer Sandy West passed away from cancer in 2006 seems unfair (although during the press day for the movie, but Currie and Jett were hopeful that those may be added in the final version) . They at least deserve a footnote, as they are reduced to bit players in the film.

Overall, "The Runaways" is a stylized, often glum, look at the rise of a groundbreaking rock group who left a permanent mark on rock and roll. It would have been nice if more of the joy that came from being part of history came through here.


•• Variety, Dennis Harvey: A conventionally enjoyable making-and-breaking-of-the-band saga.

All-girl teenage band “The Runaways,” once regarded as a prefab joke but now lionized as trailblazers, are the subject of Floria Sigismondi’s first feature. Despite the helmer’s multidisciplinary background, this proves a conventionally enjoyable making-and-breaking-of-the-band saga. Apparition plans a wide release March 19, which may lead to quick theatrical playoff since, apart from Runaways fans, the pic’s ideal audience — teenage girls who will find it inspirational and cool — won’t necessarily flock to an unfamiliar 35-year-old story. But the names of Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning at the top of the cast will help, and long ancillary life is assured.

The film was exec produced by Joan Jett, with Sigismondi’s script drawn from Cherie Currie’s 1989 autobiography “Neon Angel,” and made with cooperation from other former Runaways (save subsequent heavy-metal guitar queen Lita Ford, who, not surprisingly, isn’t given much screen time or sympathy).

This is in contrast to the 2005 feature doc “Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways,” in which everyone but Jett was involved. The docu dished a lot more dirt than this narrative recap, which both sweetens the band’s tumultuous history and makes it a more traditional cautionary tale about the wild side of rock ‘n’ roll.

“The Runaways” does a good job setting the scene without laying on too much retro kitsch. It dutifully recalls the formation of the band: Rhythm guitarist Jett (Stewart) and drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) are hanging out in the Bacchanalian mid-’70s when they petition patronage from songwriter/producer/gadfly Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who likes their idea of assembling an all-girl (and well-underage) hard-rock group.

Blonde nymphet Currie (Fanning) is recruited for her looks, with signature song “Cherry Bomb” written on the spot when she shows up with Peggy Lee’s “Fever” as her audition rather than the song assigned by Suzy Quatro (the Runaways’ only real grrl-rocker model then). Combative Ford provides the flashy lead guitar licks, and … well, there were a lot of bassists (Alia Shawkat plays a conglomerate figure named “Robin”).

With some in the band as young as 13 at the time of its formation, and nearly all from broken homes, they naturally find the pressures of touring and fame overwhelming. Fowley’s manipulations and penny-pinching are no help; neither are the era’s too-accessible hedonistic excesses. Loose emphasis is on the frisson between songwriter/peacemaker Jett and singer Currie, whose promotion as the act’s sexploitative focus causes resentment among other members. Two are seen as having a Sapphic relationship of vague duration, while Currie also beds older roadie Scottie (Johnny Lewis). An abortion is omitted from pic’s narrative, however.

The pic tends to exaggerate the group’s impact since the band came on the scene when metalheads were certain “chicks can’t rock.” Mainstream rock ‘n’ pop auds found them too hard, while others viewed them as a gimmicky jailbait sideshow packaged by well-known weirdo Svengali Fowley. The group got a lot of attention but not much respect (or record sales for its three 1976-77 Mercury albums). Later, the pic shows them being greeted with superstar-level hysteria in Japan.

Presumably for legal reasons, allegations of abuse against Fowley (other than the verbal kind) are not addressed. (They are in “Edgeplay,” wherein ex-Runaways wax positively vitriolic.)

Though sometimes her usual neurotic tics distract, “Twilight’s” Stewart is a good fit for the tough but good-natured Jett, who carried on as frontwoman after Currie left, then launched a far more successful solo career. In line with many previous roles, Fanning emphasizes Currie’s vulnerability — making her a sexy nice-girl victim — though the bratty, dangerously needy character seen in old clips, discussed by bandmates in “Edgeplay,” and even glimpsed in Currie’s own book, seems more interesting.

Shannon has a field day as the uniquely foul-mouthed, temperamentally perverse Fowley. Riley Keough has a substantial role as Currie’s sister Marie; Tatum O’Neal and Brett Cullen appear very briefly as the Curries’ divorced, neglectful parents.

Apart from some druggy scenes, the presentation is pretty straightforward, albeit energetic enough and benefiting from Benoit Debie’s astute lensing. Other design/tech factors are solid. The soundtrack (which includes numerous other artists of the era) rocks, naturally.

Only Currie, Jett and Fowley are afforded where-are-they-now onscreen text epilogues, which seems unfair and should be corrected before release to include at least Ford and West. Runtime listed doesn’t include the full final credits, which weren’t on the Sundance premiere print.


•• Film School Rejects, Neil Miller: Fanning stars as Cherie Currie, the lead singer of the all-girl rock band that tore the world a new one back in the late 70s. She saunters around on screen in her underwear, just as the real life Currie titillated a generation of young men. She strips down, delivers the progression of Currie from sweet little girl with a tough look to bonafied, drug-addled cherry bomb. And along the way, we buy it all. Why? Because Fanning’s performance is mature, emotive and as dynamic as we’ve seen from any young actress in the past 5-years. And yes, she even makes out with Kristen Stewart on screen, extensively. It’s disturbingly sexy. Once again, there will be Ephebophilia for the men in the audience.

Speaking of Stewart, she plays Joan Jett, the lead guitarist and perhaps most enduring member of The Runaways. From the start, Jett was an intense, aggressive gal who wanted nothing more than to rock out in ways that girls weren’t supposed to do. Stewart captures the intensity perfectly, but never completely immerses herself in the character. She’s aggressive, sexual and all things rock-n-roll. And that’s enough to carry the film alongside Fanning. Or so you might think.

Also added to the mix is Michael Shannon, who is insanely good as eccentric producer Kim Fowley. He’s the insane, egomaniacal long lost brother of (1970s) David Bowie, and he takes it to the limit. Or at least, the limits for which this movie would allow.

Which is what brings me to the first problem with The Runaways. It’s the VH1 version of the story the band. Sure, there is enough drug use and girls kissing girls to have the Twilight mom’s double thinking their daughters participation in opening weekend. And there’s enough nudity and overt cursing to secure an R-rating with this cut. But it feels watered down. The record shows that Fowley was criminally overwhelming and eccentric, and that the girls went further off the deep end of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll movement than is depicted. Even though a lot of that did make it into the film.

That leads me to problem number two. The movie is too adult, too edgy. I found myself questioning who would see this movie? Will mothers take their young daughters out to see this movie if it lands the aforementioned (and deserved) R-rating? This wouldn’t be bad, as young girls in this day and age could use a little Runaways music in their lives. And they already go crazy for Kristen Stewart. But is seeing her snort coke off of Dakota Fanning’s hand and have all-girl threesomes what they want to see? I have my doubts.

It’s an interesting discussion, that which I’ve had in the preceding paragraphs. But it’s ultimately one that doesn’t matter. Mostly because the second and third acts of this movie are a complete mess. What begins as a sexually charged, energetic rock love story featuring two actresses pouring their souls into two icon characters grinds to a halt as the story progresses beyond the formation of the band. To put it lightly, the final 60 minutes of this movie is a series of aggressively loud, overly stylized and (somehow) uninspired sequences chronicling the fall of the band. It’s uninspired because it lacks narrative fluidity — it feels choppy. This choppiness dispels all of the emotional weight that could have been had in the film’s final moments. Instead of rocking all the way, The Runaways crawls to a haphazard stop. It’s not quite the epic finish that the real life Runaways experienced. But then again, this exploitative, oddly safe (yes, those two opposing ideas exist in one film) piece of work doesn’t exactly capture their spirit, either.


•• Moviefone, Kevin Kelly: I’ll be blunt about this: I really wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’m not the biggest fan of lip-chewing, hair-twirling Kristen Stewart, or the wide-eyed, blank face expert Dakota Fanning. I love rock and roll (so put another dime in the jukebox, baby) as much as the next person, but these two starring in a movie about an all-girl, teen sensation, flash in the pan band from the 1970s? I just didn’t think they could pull it off. Hey, at least I’m big enough to admit I was wrong. The Runaways rocked the Joan Jett / Cherie Currie backstory’s pants off (literally), and I’ll be buying the soundtrack, which features K-Stew and D-Fan singing the blasts from the past.

However, this movie really should have been called The Joan Jett & Cherie Currie Show, because the other Runaways are hardly featured in this movie at all. Sandy West (who co-founded the band with Joan Jett), and Lita Ford’s stories aren’t given much attention in the film, and Ford seems to exist just to cause drama. Additionally, The Runaways had six different bass players during their short four-year history (including Micki Steele who went on to The Bangles) so the filmmakers decided to create a fictional girl named Robin Robins. She’s played by Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development fame, and she unfortunately gets only one or two lines. Although he’s not given as much screen time as Fanning and Stewart, Michael Shannon takes this movie, straps it to his back, and walks away with it completely. He plays their over the top manager Kim Fowley, and he looks like Frankenstein meets David Bowie. He chews up scenery left and right and steals every moment he’s onscreen, even when he has no lines. At one point, he just gives a monsterly grimace on the other end of a phone call, and owns that entire moment. When he realizes he’s bottled the lightning, he caws “You bitches are gonna be bigger than the fucking Beatles!” Although the relationship between Currie and Jett is caustic at times, Fowley is definitely the bad guy in this movie.

In the effort of cramming their story into two hours, the film rushes through the Joan Jett story as she rags on her guitar teacher for trying to instruct her with “On Top Of Old Smoky” and telling her “Girls don’t play electric guitar.” In a blink, she’s meeting Kim Fowley at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in Hollywood, and Fowley, smelling money and opportunity, introduces Jett to drummer Sandy West. They start jamming with Fowley listening, who is seemingly coked to the gills with a bent towards pedophilia. He decides the band needs, as he so eloquently illustrates with his finger pointed at a woman’s crotch, more sex. He and Jett go trolling for the face of the band back at Bingenheimer’s, where they find Mountain Dew-sipping Fanning, complete with feathered-blonde hair, and ask her to audition.

Fast-forward to Jett and West now with Lita Ford and their fictitious bass player rehearsing in a ramshackle trailer in the Valley. Currie shows up to audition, having rehearsed a Suzi Quatro cover song all night, but Fowley quickly nixes it. They end up writing “Cherry Bomb” on the spot, and with some coaxing, Currie nails it. Then he puts the girls through rock and roll boot camp, which includes teenaged boys throwing trash and dogshit at them, so they can learn how to deal with hecklers. With lightning speed, they’re off and running, playing parties in Los Angeles, hitting the road for shows, cutting a record, and touring Japan.

But the real story takes place in the cracks between the electric soundtrack. Kristen Stewart steps out of her normal angsty girl act and nails down the punk rock, hard as nails Jett, and Fanning is equally as good with her disconnected portrayal of Currie, who is dealing with the fact that she’s abandoning her alcoholic father and her twin sister Marie (played as fraternal in the movie, although they were identical in real life) to embrace a life of rock and roll. It’s not long before the girls are full-on in the swing of drugs while on the road, and Fanning and Stewart share an extremely intimate kiss on the floor of a skating rink before the camera swirls them up into a heavily implied sex scene, which is something the movie doesn’t shy away from. We see Fowley banging some woman while on a phone call, Currie having sex in a dressing room, and Jett teaching Sandy West how to masturbate … to Farrah Fawcett.

The Runaways flamed out in four quick years, although that timeline feels a lot shorter in this film. By the time the band begins to break up, it only feels like a few months have passed, and that’s the only real fault in the movie. To try and keep this under two hours long, they’ve compacted four years of the first influential, teenaged, all-girl rock band into the Almost Famous story. By the end of the film, Jett is enjoying the rise of her solo fame, and Currie has taken a different path. There are crawls telling us what happened to Jett, Currie, and Fowley, but no mention of the other Runaways, which mirrors the movie. Powerful performances from Stewart, Fanning, and Shannon, and a song showcase that puts in bold what the Runaways were all about, while giving a bit of short shrift to the other band members. These girls were, for a very short time, the Queens of Noise. Fanning’s concert performance of “Cherry Bomb” will be ringing in your ears for days.

One final note: Beware Twihards and Twi-Moms, this is not your sweet and innocent Bella. Kristen Stewart’s Joan Jett urinates on electric guitars, pops pills, snorts coke, and loves other ladies. Just a fair warning.


•• Indiewire, Anne Thompson: The Runaways hit Sundance like a freight train, thanks to the combined star power of Twilight stars Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and the characters they play in the musical biopic, "wild and braless" Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, who toured as teenagers with the first all-girl rock band in the 70s.

Jett performed at Sundance Saturday night, and the gang did back-to-back interviews Sunday, culminating in the packed Eccles premiere Sunday night. Rookie writer-director Floria Sigismondi delivers a strange take on what should have been surefire material: skimpily-clad pre-teens being exploited by a manager who knows a good thing when he sees it. While Stewart does what she can with an under-written role, Fanning seems limp-wristed as Currie; she does not rock, nor does the movie. (The girls sing their own songs.) Michael Shannon as manager Kim Fowley gives the picture a much-needed energy boost. "Sing like your sister just fucked your boyfriend in your parents' bed," he tells auditioning Currie.


•• JoBlo, Chris Bumbray: Rating 7,5/10
Going into the Sundance Film Festival, I knew that at some point, I would have to catch THE RUNAWAYS. Not only was the buzz white hot (mostly due to the presence of TWILIGHT's K-Stew, whose WELCOME TO THE RILEY'S is also playing the fest), but it also falls into the music biopic genre, which I'm a sucker for. All in all, this is a very interesting film. The Runaways as a band are somewhat forgotten these days, probably the most noteworthy thing about them was that this was the launching ground for Joan Jett, and Lita Ford, both of whom became rock goddesses. According to the film, the main culprit behind the band's demise was the fact that lead singer Cherrie Currie quickly became a junkie once the band hit the big time.

With Dakota Fanning as Currie, you know that even if the film was bad, it would be getting loads of press, as it features the former child-star, snorting coke, popping pills, and lounging around in barely-there skin-tight jump suits. Considering Fanning's still only fifteen (and was only fourteen when this was filmed), I was somewhat disturbed by the overt sexualization of the character, but, alas, Currie was about the same age as Fanning when the events in the film took place, and that's the way she was sold- so I suppose the filmmakers are being truthful. Discomfort aside, Fanning's excellent in the role, and she's truly maturing into an excellent actress, and this film gives her a juicy role to sink her teeth into. My only problem with her in the film was that too much time was spent on Currie, who's the star of the show. Other than Joan Jett, the rest of the band-mates are seriously marginalized, with Lita Ford coming off as a one-dimensional bitch, while the others (including Alia Shawkat - blink and you'll miss her role) drift into the background.

While she's really playing second banana to Fanning, Kristen Stewart makes an excellent Joan Jett. Truthfully, I wish THE RUNAWAYS had focused on Jett, as she was the one who really broke out after the band's dissolution (her I LOVE ROCK N' ROLL album is a classic) and, to me anyways, her arc was just as interesting as Fanning's, all though considering Jett didn't have the same drug problems, it probably wasn't as attractive to the filmmakers. One thing that is addressed is Jett's sexuality, with her getting it on with a bi-curious Currie in a tastefully shot, and fairly tame love scene.

As good as Stewart and Fanning are, the main scene-stealer here is Michael Shannon, as the flamboyant Kim Fowley. Shannon's slowly but surely establishing himself as one of the great character actors of our time (he pretty much stole REVOLUTIONARY ROAD from Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet), and he's hilarious as the off-the-wall Fowley. He steals every scene he's in, particularly during the first act, where he teaches the girls how to be proper rock stars (the scene where he teaches Currie how to sing 'Cherry Bomb' literally had me rolling in the aisles). The only problem with Shannon, is that he's so good, you'll be waiting for him to re-appear every time he's offscreen, and he's not around for much of the second half.

Another problem with THE RUNAWAYS is that the editing isn't quite up to snuff. Too many scenes in the film seem disjointed, with them either ending abruptly, or going on far too long. The film only runs about 110 minutes, but it feels longer. It really drags during the final act, and it probably could have been tightened up somewhat. That said, THE RUNAWAYS is still a fairly good film, and I have a feeling that THE RUNAWAYS is going to be a sleeper, as K-Stew's TWILIGHT popularity is really going to open this up to a crowd (tweens) that otherwise might have never given it the time of day. As much as I dislike the TWILIGHT films, if she continues to use her clout from that franchise to get films like these made, than she's on the right path. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Stewart seems to want to build a good body of work, which is the key to longevity. THE RUNAWAYS, while not a perfect film, is nonetheless a very entertaining one, and definitely a flick worth checking out.


•• First Showing, Brandon Lee Tenney: Rating 5/10
If ever there was film that was a perfect fit for this year's Sundance, it's The Runaways. This fest is all about rebellion, and not many people embody rebellion more than Joan Jett and The Runaways. Focusing on Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, over-sexualized teenage girls living the wild, reckless lifestyle of rock 'n' roll super stars, the film chronicles the band's conception, its rise to stardom, and its fall. Under the abusive management of Kim Fowley (played by Michael Shannon), the girls struggle with their budding sexuality, drugs, and the pressures of being stars. What's most disappointing about the film is that there are a few truly great performances that get swallowed by the meandering, boring, slapdash story. Kristen Stewart captures the intensity, angst, and presence of Joan Jett. Michael Shannon owns the wild role of Fowley. And Dakota Fanning continues to be incredible in anything that can be projected on screen. Just as Cherie Currie was sexualized while a teenager in the seventies, the filmmakers and Fanning challenge the audience not to become ephebophiliacs. The film often wins.

Despite its performances, however, The Runaways is just mind-numbing. The first thirty minutes have real attitude, teeth, claws, and bras, but it quickly slows to a crawl. For the remaining hour and a half, it meanders through different points in The Runaways's history, compressing the events, rushing their outcomes, and destroying all context. It feels heartless. Soulless. It's an R-rated film without a distinct audience. More so, it's just a poorly constructed, shoddily-directed, uninteresting biopic.


•• Cinesnark: This movie is going to be big. I pegged it for a sleeper hit, especially if it debuted strong at Sundance, and thought if the reviews were good enough it could even break out into the mainstream. The Runaways premiered at Sundance last weekend to overwhelmingly positive reviews. And after seeing it for myself this week, I have to say–

This movie is going to be BIG.

The Runaways recounts the rise and fall of the 1970’s all-girl punk band of the same name, which introduced Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Lita Ford to the music world when they were mere teenagers. But that was the point of The Runaways–jailbait rock. Producer and music industry Svengali Kim Fowley assembled the band and sold them as sex kittens who happened to be talented musicians. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi (a newcomer to feature film but a veteran of music videos and commercials), The Runaways has all the sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll you could want from a ’70’s-era rock pic. I’ll confess to being predisposed to like this movie. I’m a fan of Joan Jett, of The Runaways, and of Kristen Stewart, who plays Jett in the film. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind. Some elements of The Runaways worked and some didn’t.

The acting makes this movie. Too often in a music movie the soundtrack takes first precedence, but here the acting is the center of the movie. The three central performances–Stewart as Jett, Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie, and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) as Fowley–are the lynch pin for the whole film. It’s easy, especially for a first-time director like Sigismondi, to get overwhelmed by the era or the music, but she successfully puts these three characters first and everything else takes a backseat. Shannon walks away with the entire film. He stomps all over everyone else, stealing scenes and chewing up scenery. Crazy costumes, over the top soliloquies–Fowley is THE role in the movie and Shannon makes the most of it.

The great debate of this film will be whose performance do you prefer, Stewart or Fanning’s? Dumb question–you need both young actresses to turn in good performances in order for it to work. And they both deliver. Stewart gives a ferocious, fearless performance as Jett. When she looks into the camera and says, “I don’t give a fuck,” you believe her. Stewart’s Jett is no naïve waif. When their sound check is shut down by the headlining band, Rush, Jett retaliates by urinating on their guitars. She does drugs (at one point Jett snorts so much coke that her face is covered in powder), makes out with chicks, and thrashes her guitar with wild abandon. Clearly Stewart gave ZERO thought to how this role would be received by her tween-aged fanbase from the Twilight franchise. As Jett says, she doesn’t give a fuck. Stewart’s best scenes are with Shannon as their Jett and Fowley play off each other. Whether it’s writing songs like “Cherry Bomb” on the fly or engaging in screaming matches, Stewart and Shannon are perfect foils who bring most of the snap to the movie.

As for Fanning, her performance is the best I’ve seen from her in years. The precocious child star is growing up to be a truly gifted actress. If Stewart’s Jett is the Queen Mother of Punk then Fanning’s Currie is the original Punk Rock Princess. In turns a sweet-faced Valley Girl and Glamazon rocker in towering platforms, Currie is by this much [ ] the lead role in the movie. We see more of Currie’s home life than Jett’s, as Currie leaves her twin sister, Marie (newcomer Riley Keough), to deal with their alcoholic father. We also see Currie’s mother, played with force by Tatum O’Neal, abandoning her daughters to raise themselves as she moves to Indonesia. “You’re welcome to come,” she says, oblivious to the destruction she’s wrecking on her children’s lives. Currie soon bails for life on the road with The Runaways. Fanning goes for a vulnerable, “little girl lost” vibe that mostly works for Currie, especially as she is overwhelmed by a combination of drugs, exhaustion, and exploitation.

The scenes Fanning and Stewart share are very good. In turns giggly BFFs and competitive bandmates, their chemistry grounds the movie. It’s been the big hype of the film–the kissing scene between Stewart and Fanning. But in context of the movie it comes and goes, another moment in a complicated relationship. They make out, the off-camera suggestion is that they have a night together, and then Fanning is standing on a table in Currie’s iconic corset and fishnets, saying, “I’m going to wear this,” daring Jett to tell her no. Their chemistry sparks most when they’re fighting, as when Jett snarls, “Sell the music, not your crotch,” at Currie as Jett throws a magazine full of soft-core photos of Currie at her. The Runaways works best when it’s splitting time evenly between Stewart and Fanning.

As for the rest of the cast, Keough and O’Neal stand out the most, but Hannah Marks (Weeds) is solid as Jett’s supportive best friend/girlfriend Tammy. Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and Stella Maeve (Gossip Girl) don’t have much to do as Lita Ford and Sandy West, respectively, but Compton nails the physicality of Ford playing a guitar. Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) is totally wasted. I seriously don’t know why they bothered casting an actress of Shawkat’s ability for the role of Robin Robins, the generic bassist. (The producers couldn’t secure the life rights for The Runaways’ first bassist, Jackie Fox, so they created a composite called Robin.) Shawkat had no lines and was little more than background scenery. Ford and West were also underrepresented, although Compton gets a nice scene toward the end, having a blow out with Jett in the recording studio. Which leads us to…

Of course it’s awesome. Sigismondi has confirmed the tracks the actresses recorded for the movie will be included, as well as original recordings by The Runaways. The only song we see performed fully in the movie is “Cherry Bomb”, but there are also clips of “Queens of Noise”, “Dead End Justice”, and Stewart singing “Playing with Fire”. Stewart and Fanning nail their vocals. Though Fanning lacks Currie’s alto growl, she puts all the force and fervor into her singing you could want. And Stewart is uncanny as Jett. Though she doesn’t sing the track, Stewart delivers chills when she picks up a white Gibson Melody Maker and begins jamming on “I Love Rock ’n Roll”, the song and the guitar that would become Jett’s signatures. There are nods to Runaways influences Suzi Quatro and David Bowie, there’s a smidge of the Sex Pistols, but The Ramones are oddly absent. Sigismondi’s husband, Living Things frontman Lillian Berlin, was cast as Joey Ramone, but his scene must have been left on the cutting room floor.

Overall this is a solid, if predictable, rock biopic that benefits from three fantastic performances. Shannon and Stewart are the standouts, and with a little bit of cleaning up in the editing room, Fanning’s performance would lose that maybe-accidental-vapidity that’s flattening it right now. It’s a promising start by a first-time director, and a little disappointing in its failure to maintain the wild energy of the first thirty minutes (please cut out Currie constantly staring off into space!). Still, The Runaways is an entertaining love letter to ’70’s punk and a band that broke the gender barrier for future generations.


•• Review Fix, Cynthia Spataro: “This is a man’s world,” James Brown’s song lyrics, blare as the young Joan Jett runs from guitar lessons with a misogynistic teacher who laughingly dismisses her attempts to learn the electric guitar. The plot of “The Runaways” couldn’t be more self explanatory- it’s the story of the band “The Runaways” who are famous for tearing down the barriers of rock ‘n roll in the ’70s with their breakout all-girl band. including the legendary Joan Jett and lead singer Cherie Currie. They know how to rock and they’re not afraid to take some abuse to make it.

The infamous Joan Jett is played, with surprising believability, by the “Twilight” queen herself, Kristen Stewart. Starring in two movies at Sundance 2010, including this film and another where she plays a teenage stripper, Stewart is starting to show she can hold her own on-screen. Coached by Jett herself throughout the filming, Stewart gets the nuances and look of Jett down in such a way that it is a believable younger version of the rocker, complete with her semi-hunched shoulders, and jet-black shaggy hair. Cherie Currie is played with equal passion by the all-grown-up Dakota Fanning who appears on-screen with Stewart for a second time (Fanning also briefly stars in “Twilight: New Moon”). The rest of “The Runaways” are somewhat forgettable, as the film focuses in on Jett and Currie as the centerpieces of the band, and the story itself.

As a young teen, Jett’s passion develops to play music and start a band, and she eventually approaches legendary producer/songwriter/musician Kim Fowley. Fowley sees the potential in an all-girl band at that time, and he subsequently helps put together “The Runaways” and manages them. Fowley puts the girls through the ringer, doing everything from hardening their sound, to prepping their stage presence as he has garbage literally thrown at them in rehearsal. The scenes with Fowley are comical, and you see his ingenious insight into the potential of “The Runaways,” as he writes their hit song “Cherry Bomb” with virtual ease. Although Fowley is harsh with the group, this almost comes across as forgivable, after all, the music industry and lifestyle aren’t forgiving- especially to a group of teenage girls in the ’70s.

However, the true story of the group’s trials and tribulations with Fowley appear to be more serious with accusations of physical and sexual abuse through his time managing the group, and this is never delved into in the film.

It seems “The Runaways” is rock ‘n roll cliché ridden, but that is probably attributed to the amount of times these stories have been told on screen. The real difference is the clichés are true; it’s the ’70s and for a bunch of teen girls wrecking hotel rooms, being sexually experimental and open, and indulging in drugs was out-there in the heyday of rock and punk music. Writer/Director Floria Sigismondi carries out the scenes which depict the drugs, destruction and deviousness of the girls with more flavor, keeping true to the sequence of events which happened in their lives. Sigismondi has a background in music videos, and this is apparent with the glossy look of the film that captures the essence of the time period and what the effects of rock music were on that generation.

What seems lacking overall is the meat of the story; the history of who “The Runaways” toured and hung out with (Cheap Trick, Blondie, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, etc.) is omitted, and there surely were stories that could have been included in the film which would have steeped the film more historically and been interesting considering these bands were all significant in their own rite. Another element which was lacking, were the family life/backgrounds for the members of “The Runaways” which was not touched upon at all (with the exception of Currie). Without much of this setup and framework included, the film seems a little hollow at times when it could have had more punch.

It’s hard to tell if the teen generation now can put into perspective just how groundbreaking “The Runaways” were, paving the way for girl rock/pop groups in the ’80s all the way up until all girl pop punk/rock bands like “The Donnas.” In the days before punk rock and rock ‘n roll became politically-correct, vegetarian, non-controversial pop music, it was just a bunch of screwed up kids getting their frustrations out with raw and dirty music- a time when the band “The Runaways” did have a chance to “change the world,” by unleashing something it had never seen before. This film captures the time period when rock and punk were exploding on the world and changing the landscape of music, and is a small glimpse into the origins of one important band of the time.


•• Roger Ebert: Rating 3/4
An all-girl rock band is named and trained by a rock manager of dubious sexuality, goes on the road, hits the charts, has a lesbian member and another who becomes a sex symbol, but crashes from drugs. This is the plot of a 1970 film named "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," which inadvertently anticipated the saga of the Runaways five years later. Life follows art.

"The Runaways" tells the story of a hard-rock girl band that was created more or less out of thin air by a manager named Kim Fowley. His luck is that he started more or less accidentally with performers who were actually talented. Guitarists Joan Jett and Lita Ford are popular to this day, long after the expiration of their sell-by dates as jailbait. The lead singer, Cherie Currie, co-starred in the very good "Foxes" (1980) with Jodie Foster, had drug problems, rehabbed, and "today is a chain-saw artist living in the San Fernando Valley." The ideal art form for any retired hard rocker.

The movie centers on the characters of Jett (Kristen Stewart), Currie (Dakota Fanning) and the manager Fowley (Michael Shannon). Jett was the original driving force, a Bowie fan who dreamed of forming her own band. Fowley, known in the music clubs of Sunset Strip as a manager on the prowl for young, cheap talent, told her to give it a shot, and paired her with Currie, whose essential quality is apparently that she was 15. That fit Fowley's concept of a jailbait band who would appeal because they seemed so young and so tough. He rehearses them in a derelict trailer in the Valley, writing their early hit "Cherry Bomb" on the spot.

Shannon is an actor of uncanny power. Oscar nominated for a role as an odd dinner guest in "Revolutionary Road" (2008), he was searing as he turned paranoid in William Friedkin's "Bug" (2006). Here he's an evil Svengali, who teaches rock 'n' roll as an assault on the audience; the girls must batter their fans into submission or admit they're losers. He's like a Marine drill sergeant: "Give me the girl. I'll give you back the man." He converts Cherie, who begins by singing passively, into a snarling tigress.

The performance abilities of the Runaways won respect. The rest was promotion and publicity. The film covers the process with visuals over a great deal of music, which helps cover an underwritten script and many questions about the characters. We learn next to nothing about anyone's home life, except for Currie, who is provided with a runaway mother (Tatum O'Neal), a loyal but resentful sister (Riley Keough) and a dying, alcoholic father (Brett Cullen). Although this man's health is important in the plot, I don't recall us ever seeing him standing up or getting a clear look at his face.

So this isn't an in-depth biopic, even though it's based on Currie's 1989 autobiography. It's more of a quick overview of the creation, rise and fall of the Runaways, with slim character development, no extended dialogue scenes, and a whole lot of rock 'n' roll. Its interest comes from Shannon's fierce and sadistic training scenes as Kim Fowley, and from the intrinsic qualities of the performances by Stewart and Fanning, who bring more to their characters than the script provides.

Another new movie this week, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2010) from Sweden, has a role for a young, hostile computer hacker. Stewart has been mentioned for the inevitable Hollywood remake. Reviewing that movie, I doubted she could handle such a tough-as-nails character. Having seen her as Joan Jett, I think she possibly could.

- Of the feel of theaters and audiences, and eight films from Sundance: "The Runaways", a somewhat fictionalized version of the life and times of the 1975-77 teenage girl rock band best known for Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). No members were over 16 when they were packaged as "jailbait rock" by snaky producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). They dressed like hookers and dominatrixes, they idolized the Sex Pistols, but they were also insecure and immature young girls. Currie almost went down in flames, and the movie is based on her autobiography, Neon Angel.

Joan Jett still tours today, and is an intact survivor. The movie reproduces the Runaways' actual music, which is no better than you might expect, but the acting is very convincing. Kristen Stewart proves once again that she's a rising star, and Dakota Fanning is such a fine actress that I, for one, almost believed I'd always heard her using the f-word. As for Michael Shannon, is he the most unheralded force in acting today, or what?


•• Twitch, Ben Umstead: Based on the memoir Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story and executive produced by Joan Jett, this all-girl rock band biopic hits all the right notes in all the right places.

Floria Sigismondi, a Canadian music video director (for Marilyn Manson, Sigure Ros, White Stripes, etc), knows how to lure the audience in from the get-go: the film starts with skimpily dressed, beautiful blond sisters Marie (Riley Keough) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) exchanging their underwear at a gas station bathroom because Cherie's period has just started. It encapsulates the theme of the film in such a short time - sisterhood, by and large.

It's Los Angeles circa 1975 and Sigismondi does a great job capturing the tail end of the glam rock era and dawn of disco.

Tomboyish teen with shaggy jet-black hair and a black leather jacket, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) somehow manages to convince a lipstick wearing opportunistic music producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) to give her a chance at an all-girl rock band. He knows what's good when he sees it. He recruits Sandy West the drummer, Lita Ford on lead guitar and Robin (fictional character) on bass. With these feline punkettes with their 'f-you' attitudes, he announces eloquently "What this group needs now is more sex" as he points his finger at a woman's crotch in a magazine. After he picks up Cherie at a club to be the lead singer of the Runaways, he asks for her age. "Fifteen," she says, and Fowley breaks out a menacing smile, shouting "Jailbait!" He makes the girls go through sort of a rock 'n' roll boot camp to toughen them up but Cherie is a young, sensitive glam kid who dons David Bowie jump suit with Aladdin Sane makeup and lip syncs to him at a high school talent show. She even likes to listen to Don McLean's American Pie from time to time, for crying out loud. It's going to be a rocky ride.

Kristen Stewart axes her image as an angsty teenage vampire lover and gives a no frills, nuanced performance as a tough as nails but well rounded Jett. As she growls on stage and plays guitar, Stewart is utterly convincing as a determined teenager who is destined to be famous. But it's Dakota Fanning who steals the show as she embodies that unreachable, vacuous glam rock waif who stumbles upon the scene and has a hard time dealing with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Joan is in many ways Cherie's surrogate older sister while they are on the road. And Sigismondi is not afraid of suggesting their sexual affairs as well. Michael Shannon, again, proves here to be one of the most gifted American actors working today. His manic performance as a larger than life Fowler rivals his performance in William Friedkin's Bug as a psycho conspiracy theorist and in Werner Herzog's recent My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done as a schizophrenic stage actor who takes his pink flamingos hostage.

In the end, sex, drugs and being constantly on the road prove to be too much for young Cherie to handle. Despite its edgy subject matter, The Runaways is a sweet movie about young girls' rites of passage. As they go their separate ways, their reminiscence has no bitterness to it. It almost has a fairy tale quality rather than the cynicism of its 80's counterpart, Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains by Lou Adler, starring baby Diane Lane and Laura Dern.


•• Slant Magazine, Bill Weber: Rating 2,5/4
From its opening plop of menstrual blood on Southern California asphalt, The Runaways feints in the direction of being an obstreperously feminist biopic worthy of its subject, the mid-1970s hard-rock band of teenage girls—exploitatively promoted and covered as "real jailbait"—who shattered the sound barrier that kept all-female pop combos in the low-decibel or novelty ghettos. And for much of its first half, veteran music video director Floria Sigismondi's feature debut gives the story a buzzing, underdog energy, transcending the genre's well-worn basics due principally to a pair of nervy impersonations: Kristen Stewart as shag-coiffed, slouching guitar goddess Joan Jett, whose will and ambition can't be denied by a teacher's refusal to let her plug into an amp; and Michael Shannon's often hilarious and ultimately toxic manager-collaborator Kim Fowley, more a glam Beelzebub than Svengali in his studded choker, daubs of face paint, and Nietzschean lack of self-doubt. ("I'm gonna teach you to use your cocks!" is a typical Fowley sneer at his underage protégés in their filthy rehearsal trailer, before he invites some boys in to hurl beer cans at them for "heckler practice.")

Unfortunately, The Runaways isn't really about either of them, or musical alchemy. Hanging out at the same L.A. clubs as Joan is 15-year-old Cherie Currie (saucer-eyed Dakota Fanning, occasionally recalling Patricia Arquette-level catatonia), burdened by a messy home life and scorned with cries of "freak" at her school-assembly lip-sync of Bowie's "Lady Grinning Soul." (Fanning replicates Currie's "underwater" arm-waving brand of solo-dancing impeccably.) Before long, Fowley has recruited Cherie as the front-girl Bardot of the band, browbeating her to drop cooing Peggy Lee-style vocals for a coquettish snarl, imploring her to "sing like you want an orrrrrrrrrrgasm!" Sigismondi paints him as a bottom-line cretin vamping as a visionary, but her script endorses his goals, suggesting that his crass manipulations were the only means of translating the loud-girl-band idea into a major-label career. (The film does give him some creative props when he and Jett appear to improvise the group's signature tune "Cherry Bomb" in about two minutes, like an old MGM bio-musical's scene around a Tin Pan Alley piano. Yet it's a fun moment, not a ludicrous one: "Cherry Bomb" is plausibly a two-minute job.)

The time and place is vivid with a desaturated handsomeness, whether cinematographer Benoît Debie is filling Cherie's wood-paneled family home with harsh, unwelcome sunshine or staging the girls' nocturnal drinking session in the foreground of the floodlit, decaying Hollywood sign. But once the Runaways break through and fragile Cherie becomes a casualty of plentiful drugs and soft-porn photo spreads, Sigismondi's approach (and her adaptation of Currie's autobiography) tacks toward VH1 oh-the-scandal blandness, with generic hotel-lobby collapses, studio meltdowns, and finally a gauzy-lensed reconciliation with Cherie's loyal, loving sister (Riley Keough). Where the movie does stake out new ground is showing Joan and Cherie not only as partners in flushing their contraband down an airplane toilet, but falling into bed together on the road; at least this lack of timidity makes homo-skittish portraits of the '70s like Boogie Nights and Almost Famous look blinkered.

But the plot's focus on Currie rather than Jett is a serious imbalance, particularly given the magnetism gap between the two young actors' characterizations; Fanning's spacey waif can't carry much weight opposite Stewart's persuasive, working-class leather siren, who's capable of both confronting Fowley and teaching her drummer how to masturbate with a showerhead. Finally parted by the incompatibility of Joan's lifer noise-queen chops and Cherie's vulnerability, the two young women could've been the spine of a more daring, unconventional drama, but the film's closing minutes make the whole project primarily seem an origin story for Jett's long-lasting stardom. Its makers fail to connect the nascent musical group's fandom for Suzi Quatro or Ritchie Blackmore to the devotion they inspired in generations that followed them.


•• KomoNews, David Germain: "The Runaways," chronicling the rise and fall of Joan Jett's first band, easily could have degenerated into a movie-length music video, with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning merely glam-rock poseurs.

Yet music-video veteran Floria Sigismondi makes an impressive feature-film directing debut, crafting a brisk, engaging portrait, the story making up for its lack of insight into teen rebel Jett and her bandmates with driving, infectious rhythm.

For Stewart as Jett and Fanning as Runaways singer Cherie Currie, the movie is a smart showcase to help them break out of their molds as they take on more adult roles, Stewart aiming for life after "Twilight" and Fanning seeking to graduate from her position as Hollywood's doe-eyed princess of child stars.

Both have done other mature roles - Stewart was a stripper and hooker in the upcoming "Welcome to the Rileys," Fanning played a teen rape victim in "Hounddog." Yet "The Runaways" will be an eye-opener for their fans, with Stewart and Fanning hurling themselves into the roles, their descent into the seedy 1970s world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll including a passionate kiss they share in a love scene.

Though based on Currie's memoir "Neon Angel," "The Runaways" is much more the story of Jett, who was an executive producer on the film and on set for almost the entire shoot. Currie was on hand to help the filmmakers, as well, but the movie, like the short-lived Runaways, is of greatest interest as a prelude to Jett's later stardom fronting the Blackhearts.

Sigismondi, who also wrote the screenplay, tells the story in a simple, direct, chronological fashion as teenagers Jett and Currie, guided by flamboyant and foul-tongued manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), lead an all-girl band that can rock with the best of the boys. Their band included guitarist Lita Ford, later a hard-rock star on her own.

From their start in 1975 through their finish in 1978, the Runaways made five albums, toured relentlessly in the United States, Europe and Japan, and achieved superstardom in the latter, where their anthem "Cherry Bomb" was a smash hit.

While an entertaining evocation of the '70s scene, "The Runaways" plays out predictably like many another tale of a promising band undone by those pesky "creative differences."

Stewart's Jett is the backbone, the one who really wants it, the one born for the life of a rock star. The movie's high point comes after a period of lonely introspection by Jett as she realizes her dream of the Runaways is fading, and the movie gives way to the sizzling guitar intro of "I Love Rock N' Roll," a hit a few years later for her and the Blackhearts.

Fanning has the showy role as Currie, strutting the stage in lingerie and acting out with a drugged-up punk's lust for bad behavior. The character rings a bit hollowly, though, the perspective coming mainly through Jett's eyes, with little to say about how and why Currie was so quickly seduced and spat out by the rock life.

Stewart is the steady hand, her Jett certainly more impassioned than mopey Bella in the "Twilight" movies but muted next to the outrageous antics Fanning gets to carry out. As manager Fowley, Shannon is funny and often more outlandish than Fanning's Currie, though in his case, the character can lapse into a caricature of a crazy man behind the scenes.

Some touching moments develop in Currie's relations with her twin sister (Riley Keough, a strong presence as the bitter sibling stuck at home in a dead-end job). Currie's absentee mother is played in a fleeting role by Tatum O'Neal, who knows something about the perils of youthful stardom, peaking with her Academy Awards win for "Paper Moon" at age 10, barely a year before the Runaways got started.

"The Runaways" is loaded front to start with music, from Currie's amusing David Bowie impersonation at a school talent show to "Crimson and Clover" and other Blackhearts hits.

Stewart and Fanning handle the vocals admirably, their live performances blending seamlessly with actual Runaways recordings on the soundtrack. Whatever else you might say about "The Runaways," it's a movie that definitely loves rock 'n' roll.


•• Reelviews, James Berardinelli: Rating 3/4
The Runaways is a well-made but generic account of the rise and collapse of a musical group. In piecing together this partially fictionalized account of the mid-1970s girl rock band, The Runaways, writer/director Floria Sigismondi has erred on the side of sanitization, omitting or softening some of the more lurid details of the behind-the-scenes goings-on. The movie is at its strongest when focusing on the musical elements: the creation and improvisation of songs, the rehearsals, the concerts. It is also effective in illustrating the friendship/quasi-lesbian romance that blossoms between the two leads. Where it underperforms is in illustrating the home life of the central character, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), and in finding a satisfying stopping point.

Sigismondi's primary source material for The Runaways is Currie's autobiography, Neon Angel. (Although it's reasonable to expect that Jett, who gets an Executive Producer credit, provided input.) With this consideration, it's understandable that the movie slants in Currie's direction. She is the only character for which the screenplay attempts to develop a home life. We are introduced to her twin sister, Marie (Riley Keough), and are presented with scenes in which her father is depicted as falling-down drunk. Although Sigismondi's desire is to represent Currie as a fully-formed character, the non-band aspects of her life have a perfunctory, half-developed feel.

The movie's closing scenes are problematic. Once Currie has left The Runaways, the narrative flounders, seemingly uncertain how and where to end. Sigismondi's solution is to flash ahead several years to a point where Jett is a major star. This allows her to use some of Jett's best-known music ("I Love Rock 'n Roll," "Crimson and Clover") in The Runaways' waning moments. Yet the final connection between Currie and Jett is brief and unsatisfying.

The three leads provide convincing performances, with Dakota Fanning being the standout. Those who saw Fanning in Hounddog will not be astounded by the blatantly adult nature of her performance, but those who think of her as a darling child actor are in for a shock. Fanning's display of raw sexuality is at once impressive and a little disturbing; one would swear she's years ahead of the character she plays rather than the same age. It would not surprise me for this portrayal to generate some controversy about the appropriateness of some of what occurs on-screen.

Kristen Stewart veers as far away from Twilight's Bella as one can imagine, making a pronounced statement that the actress does not want to be defined by her best-known role. Indeed, Stewart has shown a wellspring of talent over the years, little of which is evident in the vampire movies, but a portion of which is on display here. She and Fanning, who are also appearing opposite each other in the Twilight series, show solid chemistry, making the foundation of The Runaways the relationship between Jett and Currie.

Michael Shannon, whose role as John Givings in Revolutionary Road earned him an Oscar nomination, sinks his teeth into the part of Kim Fowley with a gusto that allows him to own his share of scenes. The over-the-top nature of the performance is intentional; there's no other way to effectively capture such a larger-than-life personality than by a little scenery-chewing. Shannon's screen time is limited so that the presence of his character doesn't become too overbearing.

The Runaways is very musical, which is precisely what one would expect from a movie steeped in rock history and lore and brought to the screen by a woman whose reputation is founded on making music videos. Although neither Fanning nor Stewart are vocally equal to their cinematic alter-egos, they do their own singing and the passion they put into belting out the lyrics allows us to forget that they aren't Currie and Jett. Fanning's "Cherry Bomb" doesn't match Currie's but it's nevertheless an effective rendition.

The film is not the definitive tale of an era and how it responded to the emergence of women rock 'n rollers, but it's an effective and engaging telling of a familiar story of the price and fleeting nature of fame. The weaknesses are more than compensated for by the performances, the art design (this feels like the '70s), and the soundtrack.


•• New York Observer, Sara Vilkomerson: Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—it’s fun, isn’t it? As long as there is music to be cranked up on the stereo, so will it always be an alluring fantasy for angsty teens (and grown-up ones) to imagine themselves as strutting, spitting, shit-kicking frontmen; muppety drummers; or thrashing guitar heroes. Let’s face it, the success of Rock Band didn’t just come from nowhere. But as previous biopics and VH-1’s Behind the Music specials have told us time and time again, there’s a familiar arc to these things: young, scrappy upstarts try to make good, find success, get poisoned by success and drugs and interband squabbling, and end up either dead or someplace sad talking about the glory days (or, you know, Axl Rose). One of the many frustrating things about The Runaways—and there are plenty of problems—is just how good the subject matter is that it tackles. First all-girl rock band! Joan Jett! Cherry Bomb! Nineteen seventy-five and all the glittery eye-shadow that goes with it!

The film, directed with a gritty eye by Floria Sigismondi, was surprisingly successful when it came to casting. Kristen Stewart, as Joan Jett, channels all of her weird, fidgety Twilight energy into a compelling, tomboyish figure of a girl/woman who just wants to rock as hard—or harder—as her male counterparts (Ms. Jett also served as an executive producer on the film). And Dakota Fanning, all grown up from her Dr. Seuss days, is believable as jail-bait Cheri Currie—half David Bowie, half Brigit Bardot, picked by Svengali-like producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) for her looks and style before even going through the trouble of finding out whether she could sing. The film is at its best during its dreamy, druggy montages: watching the girls struggle to prove themselves and, because of their teen ages, figure out whether they’re actually badass chicks, or just playing dress-up.

But it’s when the music stops that we run into problems. For starters, there are so many questions left unanswered: While we get a peek into Ms. Currie’s backstory (left-behind sister, flaky mom, drunk dad), just where the hell Joan Jett came from remains a mystery (raised by wolves?), and ditto for her simmering rage (she pees on another band’s guitar. Rock ’n’ roll!). Ms. Fanning, born in 1994 (read: shriek), uses those spooky, old-soul eyes to show world-weariness, but when it comes to delivering dialogue, both she and Ms. Stewart seem to be students of the Robitussin school of acting: monosyllabic clunkers delivered as though half-asleep. Not so with the scene-chewing Mr. Shannon, who seemed to be acting in an entirely different movie altogether. We see Currie and Jett do drugs and make out a few times, but the movie does nothing to explore whatever complications that brought—if any—to their onstage and offstage relationship and only hints ever so briefly at what it did to the band dynamic. And speaking of the band, what about the other three members? Each gets a handful of dialogue (oh, Lita Ford, you always get the shaft!) but don’t even make it into the here’s-what-happened notes at movie’s end. One could argue that the Runaways paved the way for the Madonnas and Lady Gagas of the world—this movie hints at a really fascinating story but just barely scratches at its glittery surface.


•• Now Toronto, Susan G. Cole: Floria Sigismondi has huge cred, having mounted many photo shows and directed music videos for decades. So she's an excellent choice to helm this story of Joan Jett's first band.

Based on the memoir by lead singer Cherie Currie and set in 1975, the film's narrative is not exactly new: band forms when Jett (Kristen Stewart) meets manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon); he recruits hot babe Cherie (Dakota Fanning) to be lead lungs. Sex, drugs and band jealousies ensue.

From the first startling shot, Sigismondi keeps things raw and super-energized. Fanning is weirdly flat as the star battling addiction, but Shannon is gloriously over the top as the band's Svengali-like motivator. And Stewart is voracious as Jett, a welcome change from her glum Twilight persona.

Cool lesbo content, too, subtle and worked in as an organic part of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. And art direction to die for. Was there ever an uglier decade than the 70s?


•• James Wegg: Rating 4/5
In director/writer Floria Sigismondi’s hands, telling the tale of the rise and fall of a decidedly in-your-face (and ear) all-girl rock-and-roll band is much more than an excuse to shoot over and around some spectacular historical tracks (‘70s) between plot points.

Instead, it’s a well-crafted commentary on the framework of family—particularly the notion that if abandoned by one’s own flesh-and-blood, a surrogate unit of parents and siblings will be created to fill the void, then nurtured and—unfortunately in this instance—ruined when the unavoidable gene pool rears its ugly DNA as heredity role modelling finds incredible expression in a like-father-like-daughter scenario that won’t shut up.

Meet Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning in a bravura performance that will turn heads of all sexes). From the first drop of unexpected menstrual blood, her ascent into womanhood is most certainly not going to be a textbook rite of passage. Elder sister Marie (Riley Keough, a model of understatement) doesn’t appear to have a rebellious bone in her equally attractive body but, through incidents not of her own making, soon becomes a mother-without-a-child.

The girls’ absent father (kicked out of the nest for leaving the family’s upscale furniture ridden with cocktail-glass rings; Brett Cullen convinces in every scene) lives and dies for gin—unable to do more than call to offer a birthday greeting much less appear and eat cake.

As the film begins, Cherie’s mother announces her “places please”—yes, she’s an actor—intention of marrying Wolfgang (Time Winters) then moving the clan to live happily ever after in Indonesia.

Abandoning that Disneyland scenario, the two girls move in with their derelict dad, his long-suffering mother (Peggy Stewart is a hoot) and an aunt (Jill Andre) whose sainthood is assured. That recipe for home-life bliss—not surprisingly—becomes a motivating factor in Cherie’s quest to wrap herself in an environment which includes—at least—a modicum of love, respect and identity.

Meanwhile, in another part of LA, David Bowie devotee Joan Jett (a brilliantly dark portrayal by Kristen Stewart) learns the hard way that “Girls don’t play electric guitar” (this story is set in 1964 …). Hilariously, after the deep mysteries of “On Top of Old Smokey” are unlocked then unleashed at her high school music lesson, the talented heller puts her musical desires into the lasciviously slimy hands of Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon excels in the lecherous role). The extreme-tough-love producer/father-figure soon becomes obsessed with fleshing out an all-girl band that will not be known primarily for its music but rather “sex, violence and rebellion.”

After a typical drug and booze filled night, trolling underage clubs in search of a tempting sex-kitten who also has “lungs,” Cherie is spotted then invited to audtion and see if her sultry look and aggressive style have a “growling” voice to match.

In one of the best sequences of the production, Peggy Lee’s “Fever” is summarily rejected unheard as Kim/Joan write the infamous “Cherry Bomb” chart on the spot (which happens to be the band’s studio—a cramped, aging trailer, giving a metaphorically-rich foreshadowing of the life-on-the-road to come). Once complete and at “Daddy’s” urging to let go and embrace the crotch-grabbing lyrics, a star is born.

The remainder of the film is a fairly predictable voyage through the first road trip (paying their dues as a warm-up act; bedding the roadie—Johnnie Lewis—and each other), then a few hits and tour to Japan. As fame and cash flow increase, so does all manner of dependencies until Cherie explodes during a recording session.

The mother of all vocalists loses her brood, but like resilient kids from broken homes, they soon pick themselves up and move on (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts had a great run as the next incarnation).

The truly happy ending of this story is that, unlike so many others—most recently Corey Haim—when, for the second time in her life, Cherie lost her made-up family, she was able to salvage what was left of her own and live to perform another day.


•• The Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoontz: Rating 3,5/5
"The Runaways" is for the most part a straightforward story of the rise and fall of a rock-and-roll band, with one key difference: jailbait.

That may not be the most polite way to describe members of the band fronted by Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, played in Floria Sigismondi's film by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, respectively. But it's a word tossed around a lot by the brilliant (in a demented sort of way) manager of the group, Kim Fowley, played with scene-stealing gusto by Michael Shannon. And why wouldn't it be? He put the band together with that in mind.

Jett, Currie and Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) were indeed kids when the band started and were kids by the time it broke up, though they did a lot of growing up in the meanwhile, most of it of the sordid, rock-star variety.

With the exception of gender, it's the standard story, really: Kids from broken homes don't fit in but find their purpose in rock and roll. It's the ultimate method of outsider inclusion; plug in and play, and you're finally a part of something, even if it's something that exists outside most people's experience.

The young Jett just wants to rock, but she's told at every turn a variation on the same thing (and told outright by her music teacher): Girls don't play electric guitar.

But Jett does, and when she spots Fowley, decked out in eyeliner and a dog collar at a nightclub, she tells him so. Sensing a kindred spirit, Fowley gets Jett together with other musicians. But they need a singer, preferably blond and willing to get wild onstage. If she's wearing lingerie when that happens, well, so much the better. Singing talent is optional.

Enter Currie, a David Bowie disciple whom Jett and Fowley spot at a club. With the proper prompting, which consists mostly of being browbeaten and humiliated by Fowley, Currie learns to front a band, to spit out lyrics to songs like "Cherry Bomb" that make her seem way beyond the teenager she really is.

There are soft-focus allusions (sometimes literally so) to ambiguous sexuality, more-explicit takes on drug use and a generally dissolute lifestyle. It's no surprise that this is not exactly a good way to grow up. Tensions mount within the band. Jett and Currie form a sort of alliance, but Currie is eventually too lost in her own problems to keep the band going.

Stewart is surprisingly good as Jett; the head-down non-responsive attitude that is so annoying in the "Twilight" films is much more at home here. Jett is lost, after all, until she cranks up her guitar, at which point Stewart comes alive, as well. And Fanning, famous as a child star, is all grown up as Currie - or at least as grown up as Currie was allowed to be.

What's lacking are surprises or any sort of different take on the traditional rags-to-rock-riches story. The performances help make up for that - Shannon is an absolute scream (who is often screaming). Even better, the songs hold up particularly well. Jett would go on to a massively successful career with more of a pop-rock sound. The Runaways were more raw, more primal. The Runaways broke new ground. And if "The Runaways" doesn't, it's still a movie worth watching - and listening to.


•• Montreal Film Journal: Not since Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” do I recall a movie about teenage girls starting with such an overt depiction of the outset of puberty. I mean, the first shot of “The Runaways” literally shows a drop of blood falling to the ground from between Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning)’s legs, as she gets her first period. Right there, this is a clear sign that writer-director Floria Sigismondi doesn’t intend to shy away from showing us things like they are, blood, sweat and tears included.

Another thing that’s really welcomed is the almost complete absence of moral judgment on the filmmaker’s part. In fact, most often, Sigismondi actually seems to get off on the titillating mayhem that is at the core of the story of The Runaways, the first all-girl rock band, who paved the way for groups like The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, Bikini Kill, The Donnas and my personal favorites, Pony Up! So they were very influential but, as is often the case, their run didn’t last long, at least not with the original line-up. But what a run it was!

The girls’ music was damn great in my opinion, but there’s no mistake that their appeal lied in part in their sexuality, which Fowley shamelessly encouraged them to flaunt even though they were underage (“Jail fucking bait, jack fucking pot!”). Was this empowering or exploitative? Sigismondi wisely lets us decide for ourselves, contenting herself with showing The Runaways strutting around on stage in skimpy outfits and partying up a storm, getting drunk and taking all kinds of drugs, for better or worse. Also getting much screen time is the girl-girl sexual tension between Jett and Currie, which leads to the much-ballyhooed make-out scene between Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning…

Speaking of which (Kristen and Dakota, not their make-out scene!), both actresses must be commended for their performances, which are appropriately intense. Stewart and Fanning also do their own singing and I have to say, they rock pretty hard! I also liked how Floria Sigismondi shot most of her film as if through a haze, full of smoke, bleeding lights and distortion.

Unfortunately, as is the case with too many musical biopics, the third act is a bummer, the giddy thrills of the beginnings and the rise to fame being replaced by the obligatory dramatic clichés (tensions between band members, family issues, substance abuse taking its toll, etc.). Even if this is just reflecting reality, there must be a way to not dwell on this so much, at least not in such a conventional, tedious manner. Still, up until those less enthusing final reels, “The Runaways” is a fun, badass little flick and remains worth seeing for that.


•• Rolling Stone, Peter Travers: Rating 2,5/4
"Come on, you filthy pussies, let's rock and roll."

That trash talk is aimed at Kristen Stewart, 19, and Dakota Fanning, 16, stars of Twilight: New Moon, by Michael Shannon, in fierce, flamboyant form as evil-genius manager Kim Fowley. Kim is cursing the girls as members of the Runaways, a pioneering band of five jailbait rockers from broken homes that he wants to turn into the female Beatles.

Stewart gives as good as she gets. She's playing Joan Jett, 15, the shag-haired guitarist, singer and songwriter who co-founded the Runaways in 1975 and went on – after the L.A. band dissolved in 1979 – to achieve star status as a solo act. Fanning has it tougher as Cherie Currie, 15, a blond Valley girl molded by Kim into the band's lead singer and jerk-off fantasy. Cherie is so naive she almost breaks down. In a killer scene early in the film, written and directed by — music-video whiz Floria Sigismondi, Kim preps the girls for life in a man's game. Rehearsing in a crummy trailer, the girls are hit by bottles, cans, dirt and dog shit tossed by Kim and his toadies. Cherie is told to sell the sexual heat in a song Kim and Joan create for her: "Hello, Daddy, hello, Mom, I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb."

The "Cherry Bomb" scene is a raunchy blast of rock history. And Fanning and Stewart, who do their own singing, seize the moment. As Kim tells Cherie the dirty secrets of rock, "Fuck you, fuck authority, I want an orgasm!" she shows him what a wild child can be.

Fanning scores a knockout. And Shannon, as the "Frankenstein motherfucker," is a fireball of potent perversity. Sadly, The Runaways fades into dull predictability. Joan must wait for Cherie to screw up on drugs and sex (the make-out session between Stewart and Fanning is delicate to a fault) so she can step in and front the band. Stewart is just getting rolling when the movie ends. But face it, The Runaways is based on Neon Angel, Currie's 1989 memoir. She's the only one who gets a backstory.

The result is a walk on the wimp side. Guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) barely register in their own band. And Alia Shawkat shows up as an amalgam of Runaways bassists. Jett served as a producer, but the script never shows what drives her. What's left are colorful scenes of life on the road, especially in Japan, where the girls hit it big with a live album. But there's no sense of rock anarchy. Say what you will about the Runaways — they never played it safe. The movie does.


•• The Globe and Mail, Liam Lacey: Rating 3/4
The new rock movie The Runaways is no masterpiece, but what do you expect from a film about a 1970s' exploitation girl band best-known for the song Cherry Bomb?

Yet, to her credit, Canadian director Floria Sigismondi has created a movie that's more interesting than the band that it's about. While serving its commercial purpose as a vehicle for teen stars and Twilight: New Moon alumnae Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, The Runaways captures the sleaze and innocence of the era and has some still-relevant things to say about the conflict between girl-rocker empowerment and exploitation.

The film opens with a quarter-sized spot of blood hitting a sidewalk. The sidewalk is on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, the blood is menstrual - perhaps a nod to Brian De Palma's crypto-feminist horror movie Carrie. Either way, it's a declaration that this is teenaged girl territory.

Early scenes cover the band's beginning in a conventional order. Guitarist Joan Jett (Stewart), who has her costume and bad-ass attitude down better than her guitar chops, meets drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) outside a club. They're introduced by producer and mad-man Kim Fowley (captured brilliantly by Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon).

Fowley likes the marketing potential of Jett's all-girl rock band and starts putting together the package. Soon, he becomes their preposterously self-important guru and sleaze-ball Svengali: "Not women's lib, women's libido," he screams. Fowley puts them through his version of rock 'n' roll boot camp, teaching them to scream "I want an orgasm" while tossing dog turds and bottles at them to prepare them for hostile audiences.

Tenth-grade singer Cherie Currie (Fanning) is selected because of her Brigitte Bardot nymphet looks, though she's almost tossed out when she shows up for her audition prepared to sing Peggy Lee's Fever. Based on Currie's book Neon Angel, the film focuses on her troubled family life and how her drug use and increasingly sexualized image causes conflict with the other band members.

Stewart, who adopts Jett's hunched posture and punk mumble, lets her hungry stare do all the work. She wants to be a real rocker, not just a star. Fanning's Currie, by contrast, is the baby drama queen, a frail narcissist who can't help marketing her nubile sexuality because it gets her the attention she craves.

As well as The Runaways captures the dynamic among the three principal characters, some elements of the story are disappointingly hazy. What exactly is that lingering kiss between Jett and Currie about? And other band members get only peripheral attention. Lead guitarist Lita Ford, who went on to become a sort of hair-metal eighties sex symbol, also drops out of the on-screen text epilogue. Sure, she was embarrassing. In most ways, so were The Runaways - and you can't just run away from the past.


•• Big Sound Big Picture, David Kempler: Rating 2,5/4
In a classic case of rewriting music history, the legacy of Joan Jett's first band, The Runaways, has been elevated to a seminal moment, when in fact it wasn't quite that. In retrospect, it is important that it helped open the door to women in rock, but the band itself has left almost no musical legacy. Joan Jett went on to become a major name but her career is best defined by her later incarnation with the Blackhearts, from which came "I Love Rock and Roll", a true big-time rock and roll standard.

To be fair, "The Runaways" isn't really about the legacy they left as a band, but more about a group of very young, rebellious girls who fall into a life either because they feel driven to, like Joan Jett, or because they happen to be pretty and in the right place at the right time, like Cherie Currie.

In the beginning, Jett (Kristen Stewart) is forming her own self-image and she chooses black leather and yearns to be a rock star, like her idol, David Bowie. When she crosses paths with record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), the wheels are set in motion for the first all-girl rock and roll band. Fowley is sleazy but successful and Shannon's on-screen demeanor fits Fowley to a tee. Jett sees Currie (Dakota Fanning) in a club a few times and they notice each other, but that's as far as it goes. When Fowley meets Currie, he sees her looks and sexuality as the obvious solution to the need for a front-woman for the band and offers it to her. She jumps on it and the race to stardom is on.

"The Runaways" is fun, lively, and well-executed, but it's a little on the sanitized side of reality. The band, in particular Ms. Currie, experienced tremendous horrors that are somewhat glossed over and it takes away the edge that should be the defining point of the story of the first all-girl rock group. This does not mean that it is a failure. It isn't, at all. But by cleaning it up for a mainstream audience, the powers behind it have ruined a great opportunity to have made a killer flick, worthy of Oscar nods. The performances are there and the story is there but the guts are somewhat lacking. It's still a real good flick but it left me wondering what if.


•• Philly.com, Gary Thompson: The VH1 series "Behind the Music" revealed the tragic flaw shared by most rock bands - they were full of men.

And so the rise-and-fall narratives were amazingly consistent: a garage, a gig, a manager, a record deal, tours, drugs, girls, detox, bankruptcy.

At no time do any of the band members suspect the record company might want them drunk and distracted when the money is counted. A foolproof scheme, so long as bands continued to be staffed by men, the most gullible and predictable gender.

And so it is with some degree of surprise that a movie like "The Runaways" shows this technique works almost equally well on women.

"The Runaways" is the bio-pickin' story of the protean L.A. band of late-'70s girl rockers, led musically by Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and fronted by sex kittenish Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning).

It's a standard story of a wild band's shooting star trajectory, with above-average period details and a weird wrinkle - from the outset, the group is molded and guided by eccentric Svengali Kim Fowley, played by Hollywood's leading weirdo in residence, Michael Shannon ("Bug," and Oscar-nominated for "Revolutionary Road").

Fowley fancied himself a kind of L.A. Andy Warhol, an impresario/aficionado who wanted to deconstruct rock and rebuild it as performance art - feminized, with girls, real rockers, who could subvert and rechannel rock's currents of anger and rebellion, and make new use of its phallic symbols.

This might be of interest to rock theoreticians, but it doesn't make for much of a movie - Fowley's obscene and pretentious outbursts about the meaning and purpose of The Runaways sound way too much like screenwriting.

And the movie has a confusing polarity of relationships - Fowley to Currie, Currie to Jett, Jett to Fowley. It feels like it's about all of them and none of them (there's still more about Currie's family problems), and the lack of focus worsens when the girls go on tour and Fowley is stuck on the end of a phone, always deadening in a movie.

"The Runaways" works best when the music is allowed to speak for itself. Stewart and Fanning do their own playing/singing, bringing life to the sound.

At its best it has an atonal, thrashy, post-punk feel similar to what the L.A. band "X" was doing around that time, and you can see how The Runaways probably made the rock world safe for Courtney Love (even if Love was not safe for rock).

The band's self-destruction is less original, as are the dynamics surrounding its breakup, the usual complaining about the lead singer getting inordinate attention. Compare these scenes to similar scenes in "Almost Famous" and they feel a little flat.


•• Daily Film Dose, Reece Crothers: Rating 3,5/4
Based on lead singer Cherie Currie's memoir "Neon Angel" and written for the screen by 90s music video darling, (and OCAD grad) Floria Sigismondi, this is a rock n' roll movie that kicks ass and packs an emotional punch.

The performances are uniformly excellent with leads Fanning and Stewart proving their acting chops and standing out among their peers as true actors in a sea of celebrities who are famous for being famous. There is something shocking and dangerous watching the veteran child stars emerge from the awkward teenage period (that most child actors don't survive) and you can't help but feel the authority of their work in dealing with precocious fame and all the pratfalls of excess that come with it. The film works almost as a love story between two artists and you couldn't ask for two actors with more chemistry, their very different energies complimenting each other extraordinarily well.

From the first frame in which she appears, Stewart inhabits Joan Jett. There is nothing of the Twilight Saga's Bella in her portrayal of the rock icon. Her mannerisms, the way she hunches her shoulders, the tough exterior, the drive to be taken seriously as an artist, the vulnerability, it's all over her face.

Fanning, as Currie, is just as impressive, playing the more tragic character, the 15 year old "jailbait", who truly suffers from the volcanic rise to fame of the first ever all girl rock group. There is something of a young Michelle Pfeiffer to Fanning's performance, the cat eyes, the fragile beauty. Like Pfeiffer, there is a lot more going on beside a pretty face and she is able to project a myriad of emotions in a flash of her deceptively vacant expression, the more you look at her the more you see right into her soul.

In a stand out supporting role as Kim Fowley, the record producer who gave The Runaways their start, Michael Shannon steals every scene he turns up in. He seems to really have fun with the role, and especially in the early scenes, there is a warmth to his performance that we haven't seen from him before. Shannon has been turning in exceptional work consistently ever since 'Jesus' Son'. If you haven't seen him in 'Shotgun Stories', get yourself to a video store immediately.

The story may be familiar, a rise-fall-redemprion, sex, drugs and rock n' roll excess tale, but because it's rooted in these great characters it manages to feel fresh. The "rise" part of the film is especially fun, exciting and propulsive. The scene where they write Cherry Bomb, which would become their first hit and launch them towards stardom is a particular highlight.

Writer/Director Sigismondi is no stranger to the music scene, one of the foremost talents in music videos for more than a decade. Like Anton Corbijn's recent Joy Division/ Ian Curtis biopic "Control", she delves deep into the music and it's creators to find the story behind the songs and delivers a stylish, sympathetic portrait of young artists and their work that is compelling whether you are a fan or not. Interesting too is Jett's credit as executive producer. Usually when the subject is credited as a producer it means you are going to get a whitewashed account, a fluff piece. Look no further than Puff Daddy's uber-disappointing Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious" for proof positive, but this movie has teeth, and claws.


•• The New York Times, A. O. Scott: It helps that Floria Sigismondi, a director of music videos who is making her feature debut, has a good ear and a sharp eye for period detail. Shot (by Benoît Debie) with a grainy, smeary look that evokes the decade as effectively as the clothes and haircuts, “The Runaways” balances nostalgia for wild bygone times with a cautionary sense of their less heroic side. Acknowledging the brazen, rebellious energy of rock ’n’ roll at the dawn of punk, Ms. Sigismondi also tallies the costs that an ardent, ambitious love of the music can exact.

The film is in effect a double biopic, chronicling the divergent fates of Ms. Jett (who is an executive producer) and Ms. Currie (whose memoir was the basis for the movie) as they learn how to play music and then how to handle fame. They start out as fans, but their aspirations to emulate their idols are blocked by long-standing sexism. “Girls can’t play the electric guitar,” a music teacher smugly informs Joan; Cherie, who worships David Bowie, is heckled and humiliated when she performs his song “Lady Grinning Soul” at a school talent show.Joan, a sullen, skinny glue-sniffer who suggests a young, androgynous Keith Richards, is the more disciplined of the two, but their big break comes courtesy of Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), a promoter who takes the girls under his not entirely benevolent wing. After Joan approaches him at a club with the idea of starting an all-girl rock band, Fowley recruits the timid, dreamy Cherie and a bunch of other young women and subjects them to a rigorous training regimen in a broken-down trailer. He teaches them to deal with hecklers, to howl and wail and strut just like their male idols, and preaches a passionate if self-contradictory brand of macho feminism. “This is not about women’s lib,” he crows, a rooster girding his chicks for battle. “It’s about women’s libido.”

Ms. Sigismondi, as she parses this distinction, is astute in recognizing that the rise of the Runaways was fueled by a volatile blend of empowerment and exploitation. The girls, well shy of their 18th birthdays, play their own instruments and write some of their own material, but their unscrupulous Svengali keeps all the control and most of the money. (Welcome to the music business!) And the version of girl pop that sells the band to record buyers and concertgoers is not exactly Hannah Montana, or even Britney Spears. They are advertised as “genuine jailbait” and “braless,” and presented to the world as kittenish tigresses — not role models but fetish objects.

All of this — as well as the easy availability of drugs and the absence of any kind of parental supervision — proves too much for Cherie. Ms. Fanning, who has shown herself a remarkably disciplined and self-aware actress almost since toddlerhood, displays heartbreaking vulnerability as well as frightening poise. Cherie is the band’s pretty face and pinup girl, posing for a cheesecake magazine spread (at Fowley’s urging) without her band mates’ knowledge. She is also something of a homebody, with a close, complicated relationship with her twin sister, Marie (Riley Keough).

Joan, who clearly loves Cherie (the kiss between Ms. Stewart and Ms. Fanning has become grist for talk-show chat), is also her rival and foil. Joan is the backbone of the band, and the one most able to turn Fowley’s advice into a program of professional success. And Ms. Stewart, watchful and unassuming, gives the movie its spine and soul. Cherie may dazzle and appall you, but Joan is the one you root for, and the one rock ’n’ roll fans of every gender and generation will identify with.

It is not always clear which story “The Runaways” wants to tell, and it hits a few too many standard music biography beats. Here, right when you expect them, are the early setbacks and heady triumphs, the pressures of the road and the pitfalls of celebrity. But Ms. Sigismondi infuses crucial scenes with a rough, energetic spirit, and shows a willingness to accept the contradictions inherent in the material without prurience, moralism or too much sentimentality. The movie may be a little too tame in the end, but at its best it is just wild enough.


•• CNN, Tom Charity: When the Runaways cut their first LP in 1976, producer Kim Fowley made sure their ages were printed on the sleeve.

It wasn’t enough that he had the first all-girl rock band on his hands. These were also the girls Chuck Berry used to sing about, 16 years young (if not so sweet).

As he exults it in director Floria Sigismondi’s new movie, “The Runaways,” “Jailbait [expletive] jackpot!”

These days, teen sensations tend to come ready-made straight off the Disney Channel. But the Runaways were raw — and not about to cuddle up to Mickey Mouse.Lead singer Cherie Currie is recruited because Fowley (Michael Shannon) and proto-punkette Joan Jett (Kirsten Stewart) like her look. Can she sing?

Her experience consists of lip-synching to David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” at a high school talent show. She was booed off the stage, but she doesn’t tell them that. The alternative is following in her older sister’s footsteps, working in the nearest taco take-out.

Sigismondi evokes the no-frills, straight-ahead vibe of ’70s drive-in flicks; the first image is of menstrual blood hitting the sidewalk. She has directed pop videos for David Bowie, Bjork and the White Stripes, and this film, she doesn’t pretty up the music scene. She doesn’t have to.

There’s built-in excitement and energy as the band comes together to produce short, sharp shockers such as ch-ch-ch-ch “Cherry Bomb” (improvised by Kim and Joan on the spot in Cherie’s honour).

A glam Frankenstein, Fowley puts the band together piece by piece in his broken-down trailer, barking for more attitude, more sex, more — uh, testosterone.

“This isn’t about women’s lib,” he yells, “it’s about women’s libido.”

Of course, liberation and libido aren’t mutually exclusive, even if this underground Svengali expects to call all the shots. It’s his confusion on that score that probably seals the band’s crash-and-burn fate.

In a scene that deserves its own exhibit in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Infamy, he has the band play on while they’re pelted with trash and dog excrement to prepare for their first gig. It’s unorthodox, but also useful preparation for the road, Sigismondi implies.

It’s a mystery how the intense and flamboyant Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) continues to fly under the radar.

The same cannot be said for Kristen Stewart or Dakota Fanning. The “New Moon” stars are the right age (19 and 16 respectively), but more importantly they seem of the right time. They suck on cigarettes, party all night, and there’s not a paparazzo in sight.

Proving she’s more than just a wan face, Stewart gets Jett’s peculiar toughness. She’s like John Garfield in a hot red jumpsuit. When the band begins to splinter and Joan starts smashing furniture around the studio, it’s not about ego or bravado, it’s just the frustration of someone who loves what she does and sees it slipping away from her.

Currie is a more vulnerable character, but somehow a less compelling figure. Although the movie is based on Currie’s memoir — it’s lightly structured as an adolescent’s coming-of-age story — scenes picking over her fractured family relationships have a rote feel.

It doesn’t help that Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), who plays big sister Marie, is a miserable actress — though it’s nice to see Tatum O’Neal back, however briefly, as the girls’ absentee mom.

The inevitable burn-out, such a staple of the rock biopic, drags down the movie just when it’s hitting stride.

It may be true that most rock dreams end with a dose of harsh, cold reality, but Joan Jett’s ongoing love affair with rock ‘n’ roll is proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Stewart steals the show here, indicating they’ve made the movie about the wrong woman. Jett remains the runaway that got away.


•• Movie Moxie, Shannon Ridler: Reason to see: Biopic on the band The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart & Dakota Fanning? You couldn't keep me away.

The moment images from The Runaways started popping up online, I had a feeling we were headed for a good ride. I know looks aren't everything, but a film that's willing to be authentic on the mullet like hair has got the guts to go far. The Runaways has got guts. They go for it. I love how it didn't gloss over anything. Things what would be messy were messy, what you'd expect to be dirty was dirty. Of course there is fair share of glitzy and gloss - where it should be, like on stage, but it doesn't shy away from the gritty realities. It feels like a really honest take on things, sure there are frustrations and barriers of being an the first all-girl band of it's kind, but it also embraces the franticness of life at the time.

With the film being based on a book by Cherie Currie and executive produced by Joan Jett, you have to feel confident that the film presents an honest vision from the biographical point of view. One of the things I love about it is that it doesn't shy away from the flaws of life, that how even with the best of intentions, life can run it's own course and throw you curve balls along the way. People reactions can be different to the curve balls, because everyone is different. In a lot of ways it's a beautiful tale of persistence, resilience and what you can do if you've got drive.

The casting is genius, having two talented women in the forefront with Kristen Stewart (Twilight) playing Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga: New Moon) as Cherie Currie, who make up two of the core members of the rock band this biopic film follows. Both provide stellar performances. I'm continued to be impressed with Kristen Stewart, whose roster of films keeps getting more and more varied providing us with strong performances every step of the way. Dakota Fanning is amazing in the role of Cherie, providing a stunning performance of a character which a range from drive to vulnerable to everything in between. Together they make up the heart and human connection in the film, we see their friendship grow over time and they also showcases how the same journey can taken yet received so differently by different people. Michael Shannon is also a shining star in the film, in a very memorable performance of the supporting character Kim Fowley.

Overall, it's a keeper. I'm already looking forward to seeing it again. It's a great story with strong performances and fantastic music to rock the house.


•• Larry Ratliff: Rating 3/4
"The Runaways," while not a great film, it's one that constantly demands attention. Personally, I would like to have seen an experienced feature filmmaker in the director's chair. Even inexperienced in sustaining narrative, however, video and photography artist Floria Sigismondi delivers something vibrant, dark and spellbinding.

With up-and-coming star Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") in black leather as budding rocker Joan Jett and Fanning (already an established child star) as blond bombshell Cherie Currie, Sigismondi unleashes intense, sultry rock 'n' roll and dramatic heat.

Like all good music biopics, this one digs deeper than chronicling merely what happens on stage when five girls decide to rock it like the bad boys. Sigismondi, who also wrote the script, did her research grunt work. Part of that was Cherie Currie's autobiographical book "Neon Angel."

Sitting in the audience, I got the feeling that I was a fly on the wall in the shabby trailer home as The Runaways' angry, sexually charged rock sound was being born. Cherie (Fanning), fresh off a bad David Bowie lip-sync performance at her school's talent show, arrives without an audition song.

Eccentric, bombastic manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) likes her hot look, though. It's a combination of sweetness and Bridget Bardot. So Fowley, barking profanities all the way, and Jett write "Ch-ch-ch-cherry Bomb" on the spot. It will become the fast-rising band's titillating anthem.

That's the tone of "The Runaways," the movie, as well. Sigismondi delivers cinematic intensity not in building moments, as many filmmakers do, but in dramatic flash fires. The flame erupts the first time when Joan and Cherie team up to forge a niche in rock history and again when life on the road, booze and boredom lead to personal co-encounters.

Unfortunately, this is a movie that doesn't end well. It just stops. Not with a thud, really, but with a nudge. A more experienced filmmaker would discover a way around the dead end instead of letting everything just screech to a halt. When it's hitting on all cylinders, however, "The Runaways" dares to blaze a trail through rock history, as well as personal triumph and turmoil.

Both lead actresses, who convince as singers and musicians as well as actors, are superb. Stewart and Fanning don't just play these characters; they slither under the skin to become them.

Also, keep your eyes on Michael Shannon, who drew an Oscar nomination in 2008 as Kathy Bates' mentally unstable son in "Revolutionary Road." Shannon commands every scene he's in as Fowley.

Without Fowley's driving force, "The Runaways" would be like two sticks of dynamite without fuses.


•• Newsday, Glenn Gamboa: Rating 2,5/4
The most shocking thing about "The Runaways" is how tame it feels.

After all, the real-life story of the Runaways, the groundbreaking all-girl rock band, is a wild one, filled with larger-than-life characters, including the great Joan Jett, singer Cherie Currie and their manager, Kim Fowley. However, though "The Runaways" takes place during the promiscuous, drug-fueled late '70s, much of it seems oddly restrained, alternating between art-house film and after-school special - especially when Jett takes on her guitar teacher and when Currie mimes David Bowie for a school assembly.

Aside from Fowley's graphic rocker boot-camp insults, greasily delivered by Michael Shannon, and a few cocaine-snorting scenes with Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Currie (Dakota Fanning), "The Runaways" doesn't really reflect the bombast of the band's music or its aggressive, often combative sexuality.

Instead, it is dominated by claustrophobic rehearsal scenes in the band's trailer, in overcrowded clubs and in small recording studios. Director Floria Sigismondi, best known for her videos with Marilyn Manson and the White Stripes, occasionally throws in some music video visuals to shake things up, but not nearly enough to reflect the material.

That's not to say "The Runaways" isn't entertaining. Stewart and Fanning are excellent - definitely believable as rockers, with vocals that match up nicely to the originals, and as troubled teens looking for a way to fit in. But it all comes up a bit short.

"The Runaways" is cool, but the Runaways were just so much cooler.


•• CanMag, Fred Topel: The Runaways is the best musical biopic of the recent spate of drug abuse Oscar bait vehicles. Where Ray and Walk the Line like to revel in the actor-y scenes of darkness, The Runaways actually captures the energy of the music and uses the dark incidents sparingly to actually make a point.

Opening on Cherie Currie’s period should tell you that the movie is in your face and doesn’t care. The colors, the hair styles, the lighting and editing all convey rock rebellion. Even the standard shot of running to music has such inherent energy that you can’t resist it.

Joan Jett deals with a sexist music teacher, and it’s hard to imagine there was still sexism in art in the post-feminist ‘70s, but she rebels and she’s right. The Curries have selfish parents. These are only brief mentions because it’s not the rebellion that makes the band succeed. It’s just plain being good.

This is so not my world. I feel square just watching it. These rock n’ roll d-bags really did need a feminine influence, although even when the girls make it, I’m not comfortable with the way they act out. It’s scatological, filthy and dangerous. It works in a film because there are real insecurities underneath so it’s not preening about tragedy.

There are real obstacles to making it in the ‘70s music circuit. I don’t mean getting discovered, I mean just surviving. They have to learn how to dodge debris thrown at them on stage. That’s important, you know, so you don’t die.

They do explain how the business works. It’s all dropped on the run so you’re not bogged down with lessons. It’s also a clear trajectory so that when the inevitable tensions arise, it makes sense. It’s not just the “dark period.” They were clearly going to implode under their manager’s style. You can start out by getting in your face and abusive you to “motivate” them, but can’t control all the forces involved forever.

Drugs still ruin everything, but it’s a real transition. You totally see what Cherie becomes, and it actually impacts her band mates. It’s not just “Here’s your chance to act it up.” The battle between PR and music is a legitimate issue and is the focus of the film’s perspective. The stage performances are bravura enough anyway, they have the confidence to let other scenes play naturally.

The ‘70s teen sexuality is enticing, regrettably. I suppose that’s also the point, that it worked and if you enjoyed it back then, here’s what she really sacrificed to bring you that thrill. Moments like teaching a bandmate how to masturbate are honest and not exploitative. By the way, just for people waiting for it, there is an artistic underwater nude shot of Kristen Stewart.

The Runaways is a vehicle for intense performances, but it’s really good. Those performances serve not only the real life characters in the story, but serve a narrative that actually has something positive to say about music.


•• BET.com, Clay Cane: It’s hard to tell if “The Runways” is a lackluster rock flick because the all-girl band was more of a gimmick than credible rock ‘n roll, or if the film lacked the grit and depth necessary for a solid biopic. You know the story before walking into the theater: everyday kids have dreams of massive fame, luck is on their side, they meet the right person and soon they are international stars. There is always one bad apple in the group with drug addiction and guilt for being famous, tempers flare, the group disbands, but one person has solo success. “The Runaways” is a little “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” with a dash of “Sid and Nancy” and a splash of “Dreamgirls” (substitute the wigs for lesbian kisses!).

The best way to describe the sketchiness of “The Runaways” is similar to “American Idol” judges saying a performance is “pitchy.” It’s off-key for the majority of the time. But, when it periodically hits the right notes, it’s an enjoyable film.

“The Runways” has the aesthetic of an excellent music video (even though I sometimes felt like I was watching long commercials for Rock Band), which makes sense since the director, Floria Sigismondi, was behind music videos for Christina Aguilera, Marilyn Manson and David Bowie. But, the story stumbles along like a made for VH1 rock biopic. Conflicts are poorly developed and scenarios are inexcusably cliché. Usually every music biopic has a touch of original thought; “The Runaways” has none.

There is one strong force in the film, which is Joan Jett, and the story might’ve been stronger if this was a movie solely about her, and The Runaways secondary. Kristen Stewart plays Joan Jett, and she surprisingly transcends the teen melodrama of “Twilight” and manages to push out a strong, risky performance. Joan Jett is an executive producer, so I doubt she would allow Bella to ruin her on screen; you can tell Stewart studied Jett and had a goal to make her proud. Any Joan Jett fan would give two thumbs up to Stewart.

On the other hand, there is no “wow moment” in any of Stewart’s scenes. She has a mild breakdown in a recording studio, but Stewart needed a strong monologue or at least something to show growth in the role. The character of Jett is the same person in the first frame as she was in the last frame. However, she is likable. Who doesn’t dig a ballsy chick that does it as good as the boys?

Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie, the Diana Ross of the group in terms of popularity; but unlike Ross, her career crumbles due to drugs. Fanning is an incredible actress, but Currie’s addictions felt too lofty for a teen dream like Fanning. For the first time in her career, Dakota struggled to make a connection with what could’ve been a complex character regardless of how generic Currie’s story is. This could be the fault of the director, the script, or perhaps of Fanning not doing the research, which she would clearly need to do — Fanning is squeaky clean Hollywood royalty. Drew Barrymore would’ve nailed this role at Dakota’s age!

On a side note, one other big star came out of The Runaways: ‘80s rock goddess, Lita Ford. Her character is botched down to a few lines. Ford told Rolling Stone that Jett’s manager offered to buy the rights of her story for $1,000. “I thought that was pretty disgusting — we never even replied,” Ford said. This is disturbing to hear. It would be similar to doing a biopic on Destiny’s Child and cutting Kelly Rowland’s story to a few sentences.

“The Runaways” isn’t a rotten movie, but it could’ve been so much better. If it was the first music biopic ever made, it would be brilliant; but since it’s a story that’s obviously been recycled a billion times over, the film falls flat. That said, it’s hard to hate a movie about one of the first all-girl punk rock groups of all time.


•• Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: The problem with "The Runaways," a street-level snapshot of the creation of the groundbreaking '70s all-girl rock band, is that they went with the wrong girl.

Instead of training the lens on the Runaways' artistic rebel who hung around and became legend, rocker Joan Jett, played with serious punk grrl power by Kristen Stewart, the movie focuses on the one who actually ran away, lead singer Cherie Currie, a kohl-eyed and sullen Dakota Fanning.

The look is there. Writer-director Floria Sigismondi, who cut her teeth in the music video world and is making her feature debut, used her shoestring indie budget to great effect, creating a grainy documentary feel that nails the hard knocks and raw existence of the I-wannabe-a-rock-star crowd hovering around the edges of the Hollywood music scene. It's with the story that she stumbles.

Based on Currie's book "Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story," the film stays too narrowly focused on the Valley blond recruited for her golden locks and hot bod as much as her pipes. But her flirtation with fame, or the hints of a life-scarring descent into drugs, never come close to the pathos, passion and edgy creativity of Jett, whose post-Runaways fist-pumping mantra "I Love Rock 'N Roll" in 1982 captured the stadium rock zeitgeist of the day.

The good news is that Stewart is absolutely spot on as Jett; fighting convention in studded leather jackets favored by biker bad boys and shredding an electric guitar when folk rock or sugary pop was more the fashion for femmes. It was a smart choice for Stewart, who was in danger of having her career eclipsed by Bella, the pale troubled teen she plays in the "Twilight" series, a role that made her a star without confirming she could act.

Fanning, unfortunately, is absolutely wrong as Cherie. Fifteen when the film was being shot, in a bustier and fishnets and heavy makeup, she looks like an innocent lured off Hollywood Boulevard for child porn, not the growling sex machine that -- at least on stage -- Currie was. "The Secret Life of Bees" actress has been working pretty much full time since she was 6, with a string of impressive performances. In recent years, she has been turning to indie projects to make the transition to edgier adult roles, including as a rape victim in the provocative but panned "Hounddog" in 2007. But she has yet to find the right platform, and with Cherie, she never finds her footing.

"The Runaways" begins in the mid-'70s. Joan corners the flamboyantly preening rock guru of the time, Kim Fowley, played with a delicious twisted perverseness by Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road's" unstable mathematician), outside a club one night and persuades him to handle her band, which at the moment consists of Joan, her guitar and a vague idea. That launches the movie into a glorified making-of-the-band saga, told in quick cuts with a lot of drums.

But they still need that cherry on top of a lead singer. Whether it's fate or karma, Joan and Kim spot the Bardot blond in a club one night, and when it turns out her real name is Cherie, well, the rest, as they say, is rock 'n' roll history.

Currie's experience up to her Runaways' audition was a disastrous Bowie lip sync for a high school talent contest, and that becomes the device to fill in her nothing-special surburban back story -- divorced parents, drunk dad, mom taking off with a new beau.

More interesting is when the attention moves back to Joan and one of the band's defining moments. In the trashed-out trailer that serves as rehearsal space, Joan and Kim improvise "Cherry Bomb," the song that would carry the group to fame.

Shannon infuses manic life and libido into the crazy, controlling genius in caftans and in the process makes real the ego-destroying realities and unforgiving odds of making it as a band.

But every time things get interesting, like the Jett-Currie relationship, the filmmaker pulls back. So while their chemistry on stage eventually moves into the bedroom, any real sense that something more than casual sex passed between them is left untouched, which makes the breakup, when it comes, less powerful than it should have been.

Instead, as so often happens in music-based biopics, the filmmaker hangs the movie on a song. "Cherry Bomb" is the central through line and the only real character arc for Fanning. But what should grow sexier, darker and more cynical with each performance, and there are many, only succeeds in getting louder, its "Hello daddy, hello mom, I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch, cherry bomb" chorus destined to linger in memory far longer than the movie.


•• CinemaBlend, Josh Tyler: Rating 4/5
Those of you with a Twilight astigmatism won’t like reading this, but here it is anyway: Kristen Stewart is a modern day James Dean. She gives the kind of performance in The Runaways that hasn’t been seen on screen since his death. The Runaways is her Rebel Without a Cause and what’s more that disaffected, rebellious persona seems to be one which, as it did with Dean, carries over into her real life. In person Stewart is every bit as tousled and seemingly disaffected as she is playing a rock and roll icon on screen. She’s absolutely brilliant as Joan Jett, it's the role she was born to play, and yet this is not her movie.

Instead The Runaways is really the story of Cherie Currie. Played by Dakota Fanning she’s a 15-year-old girl from a broken home who’s recruited for the band mostly because she has the right look. Jett is always there, off to the side or in the background. She’s the driving force of The Runaways and clearly not only the real talent of the band but the only girl who actually seems to love what they’re doing. But Jett leaps on screen almost as if she’s already fully formed. We never really know much about her beyond the rock goddess. She has no family, no history, no past. For that there’s Currie, a girl who’s not so much a rocker as a victim of the 70s rock and roll machine.

She’s snatched up by strange but seemingly knowledgeable record producer Ken Fowley (played by a brilliantly zany, scene-stealing Michael Shannon) who’s working with Jett to create the world’s first all-girl band. Joan has the talent while Fowley has the know-how and together they put the girls through a rock and roll boot camp. Cherie is plugged in as a singer, since she can’t do anything else, and because Fowley wants her out front to sex things up (their hit song Cherry Bomb touts her as jail bait). The Runaways are a rock and roll band in every sense: they play hard-edged, rebellious, sex-tinged music and it’s not long before they’re on tour immersed in the obligatory sex and drugs which goes along with the rock and roll.

Currie, only 15, can’t take it and the movie follows as she and the girls rise to stardom and begin their inevitable downfall. Fanning gives the kind of adult performance we’ve never really seen from her before and she’s absolutely perfect, deftly capturing the desperate innocence of Currie as she spirals down into a world that’s clearly more than she can handle. But then in the background there’s always Jett, even at her most drugged out clearly in control and breathing rock and roll. Currie, who never seemed to like rock music all that much in the first place, latches on to her like a port in a storm, but Joan is too busy breathing rock n’ roll to help.

First time feature director Floria Sigismondi takes a tired rock formula and manages to make it all her own. The Runaways looks fantastic and it’s paced in such a way that it’s always moving, pounding along to the same rock and roll beat which powers its music. It’s the story of tragedy, in Currie, and pure unbridled talent, in Jett. The rock and roll scenes are toe-tapping fun and the tale of an all girl band manufactured, unleashed, and then run aground is as interesting and gripping as it ought to be. The Runaways, as part of a genre which has been done to death, may not contain many surprises but in spite of that, manages to feel fresh.


•• SFGate, Mick LaSalle: The strength and beauty of "The Runaways" are that it tells the truth. It doesn't always tell the literal truth about the pioneering all-girl rock band, the Runaways, though it gets the basic facts and most of the details right. More crucially, it conveys precisely what it was like to be young in the mid-1970s, a peculiar juncture in American social history. Back then, there was an almost post-apocalyptic feeling in the air, that all norms had been tossed aside, that nothing mattered, that the whole country and the world had spun out of control.

Other films have attempted to convey this. Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm" got a piece of this feeling, but it couldn't get all of it. Its failure was that it was, in a sense, too good a movie, too artful. "The Runaways," by contrast, is precisely the kind of gritty, seamy and occasionally awkward picture that the 1970s deserve. And in getting that one thing right - in capturing that strange combination of despair and frustrated energy - it gets everything right. It explains why kids needed rock 'n' roll, and why the Runaways still mean so much to those who remember them.

Based on "Neon Angel," the memoir of lead singer Cherie Currie, "The Runaways" tells the story of the creation of the band, focusing mainly on Joan Jett, who became the group's rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter, and Currie, who was discovered by Jett and producer Kim Fowley at Los Angeles nightclub when she was 15. They liked her look ("a little Bowie, a little Bardot") and had no idea whether she could sing. She could.

To be a teenager can feel like being stuck in mud. The world is alive with promise and excitement, but you can't get to it. You have no power. But music gives the feeling of power, the illusion of it, and sometimes that's enough to keep you sane. Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Jett (Kristen Stewart) start off as rock-obsessed high school misfits, Currie with a falling-apart family and an obsession with David Bowie, and Jett with her leather gear and a dream of becoming a female rocker - of a variety that did not yet exist. "The Runaways" shows how rock 'n' roll can save your life and almost wreck it.

Jett done perfectly

The soundtrack includes artists that influenced the Runaways (such as Suzi Quatro), original Runaways recordings and live re-creations of Runaways songs, with Fanning singing lead vocals. It all sounds terrific, though it must be said that Fanning isn't half the singer Currie was. Where Fanning excels is in suggesting the misery and confusion under the assumed air of teenage cool, and the gradual loss of herself to all the pressures and the drugs. She becomes the prime whipping girl for Fowley, ably played by Michael Shannon as an almost demonic presence, part sadistic idiot, part rock 'n' roll seer.

Stewart, known mainly for mumbling and stumbling through the "Twilight" movies, is the revelation here. She has made a meticulous study of Jett - of her posture, her manner, her expressions, even in the way thoughts cross her eyes. And she has Jett's stage manner down, the way this seemingly shy person assumes total authority when she gets up to play. The visuals help - the costuming and art direction are spot-on.

Unlikely pair

At the heart of "The Runaways" is Fanning and Stewart and their portrait of an unlikely friendship between two very different teenage girls - a friendship that, for a time, becomes very close indeed. It's also a showbiz story, of one girl who just didn't want success bad enough, and another who recognized her chance and clung to it like a lifeline.

Some will complain, understandably, that "The Runaways" ultimately tells a downbeat story that drifts and fades into a diminuendo. It feels ungainly, as though something else - something big - should be happening. But no, the filmmaker knew exactly what she was doing: It just wouldn't be the '70s if it didn't leave audiences with a cocaine hangover.


•• TheStar.com, Peter Howell: The Runaways: Homage to queens of noise really rocks.

In the pantheon of serious (read: snobbish) rock criticism, the Runaways ranked just below the Monkees and just above the Banana Splits.

This is to say these 1970s L.A. teen screamers weren't taken very seriously at all.

They have yet to be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame (although ABBA made the cut this year), and it's taken 31 years since their last power chord sounded for the band members to rate their own major motion picture.

But The Runaways, written and directed by Toronto's Floria Sigismondi, makes a compelling argument about overlooked talent and under-appreciated influence (Bangles, Bikini Kill, etc.). The movie also, ahem, rocks.

It reveals alchemy that continues today: the transformative power of three chords and an attitude not only made serious jam-kickers out of Runaways frontwomen Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, it also worked wonders on Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, who play them in the movie.

It's something of a shock to see sweet li'l Dakota rocking the mic as the face-painted and corset-clad lead vocalist Currie, and also following her well-documented (if also clichéd) descent into sex, drugs and rock-induced despair.

Stewart applies her vampiric moodiness to rhythm guitarist Jett's tough-girl persona.

She evokes the deceptive angel-face of Elvis '56 while simultaneously summoning the leather-wrapped sneer of a Keith Richards or Sid Vicious.

Sigismondi bases her screenplay on Currie's tell-all tome Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, which inevitably, and regrettably, leads The Runaways into family melodrama about Currie's drunken dad and jealous twin sister.

Before that, though, it's a highly entertaining lesson in Rock Godhood 101, as the nascent Runaways get put through the ropes by their producer-cum-svengali Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, gloriously showboating), who reckons he's found the equivalent of Charlie's golden ticket with his jailbait jukebox shakers.

Sure, there were female rockers before the Runaways – Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Jett's idol Suzi Quatro come readily to mind – but they all had male musicians providing the heavily artillery. Fowley's plan was to make punks out of these princesses, teaching them not only the essential three chords but also how to dodge beer cans hurled by sexist knuckleheads (which makes for one of the film's most entertaining scenes).

"Men don't want to see women anywhere unless it's in a kitchen or on their knees," he thunders to his charges, overstating the general male attitude of the 1970s but getting the main point across nonetheless.

Multi-media artist Sigismondi displays a fine sense of time and place and an eye for the telling detail in her feature filmmaking debut, which begins with the roadside SPLAT! of 15-year-old Currie's first drop of menstrual blood.

The parallel stories of Bowie-obsessed suburban dreamer Currie and hard-edged loner Jett converge into the pumps-to-platforms rise of the Runaways from house-party novelty act into stadium shakers and radio hitmakers ("Cherry Bomb"), culminating in a riotous 1977 tour of Japan that came very near the band's explosive end.

It's curious how little attention Sigismondi pays to the other members of the band, particularly Sandy West, the drummer and co-founder, and Lita Ford, lead guitarist. There is also nothing but an end-note credit about Jett's post-Runaways success as leader of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, a group arguably more deserving of rock hall honours and its own movie (with Stewart once again playing Jett, hopefully).

But Fanning and Stewart are the deserving stars of the film, nailing every last look and lick, holding their own even as Shannon savvily attempts to nick every scene.

And as Sigismondi and Jett have been quick to point out, The Runaways isn't a band biopic, it's a story about the corrosive allure of rock 'n' roll that also happens to tell part of the story of an influential female rock band. To this we can say rock on and ch-ch-ch-check it out.


•• San Jose Mercury News, Charlie McCollum: In the mid-1970s, the world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll belonged to men. And then along came the Runaways, five teenage girls drawn from rock clubs on the Sunset Strip.

Originally dismissed as a manufactured band — Creem magazine once dissed them as the Monkees with breasts (except it didn't use that nice a word) — the Runaways proved to be much more than that.

Particularly in concert, they were one hard-edged, take-no-prisoners rock band that could hold its own with other up-and-coming bands of the day like the Ramones and Cheap Trick (both bands once opened for the Runaways). The first (and only) time I ever saw them in early 1977, they snarled and pounded their way through a late night set at a club called the Bayou in Washington, D.C., rocking so hard that they set off a near-riot.

But less than four years after the band came together, the Runaways flamed out, leaving behind just five albums. Still, that was enough for the band to achieve an iconic stature that influenced and energized countless women rockers.

Now, in her feature film debut, director Floria Sigismondi — best known for her music videos with the likes of David Bowie — has attempted to capture not just the rise and fall of the Runaways but also the milieu of 1970s rock. She doesn't completely succeed, but she comes awfully close, and "The Runaways" (which opens today) is a true rock 'n' roll film: messy and sometimes flawed but infused with raw energy, spirit and authenticity.

Sigismondi — who also wrote the script — is helped immeasurably by the two commanding performances that make up the movie's core.

Dakota Fanning, long Hollywood's leading child star, hurls herself into the role of Cherie Currie, the band's jailbait lead singer whose overt sexuality and provocative outfits predated Madonna by a decade or more. It is a stunning transition from the innocence of most of Fanning's roles, and the actress pulls it off without hitting a false note as Currie deals with an alcoholic father, a neglectful mother, drugs and the ravages of fame.

Complementing Fanning is Kristen Stewart, who proves once again that she is going to have a fine acting career long after she stops playing Bella Swan in the "Twilight Saga." As guitarist-songwriter-vocalist Joan Jett, who would go on to solo fame fronting the Blackhearts and with rock anthem "I Love Rock N' Roll," Stewart is positively fierce. Her role isn't as showy as Fanning's, but Stewart gives Jett the kind of emotional weight and sheer joy of rock that the film needs.

Together, they carry a film that includes heavy drug use, raw language and a steamy sex scene played out to Iggy Pop's "I Want to Be Your Dog" that is a long way from "The Cat In the Hat" and "Twilight."

Based on Currie's memoir "Neon Angel," the movie races through the Runaways' career so quickly that it seems as if it all happened in a week. That is the biggest flaw in Sigismondi's work, since the sheer pace of the film doesn't allow for enough character development. The Currie story told here is a simplistic one that doesn't delve deeply enough into a complex young woman. There is also little time spent on the abuse the Runaways faced, abuse that fills both Currie's book and the 2004 documentary "Edgeplay" by former Runaways bass player Victory Tischler-Blue.

And the rest of the Runaways are reduced to bit players in their own story — most notably the late drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) who would go on to be the queen of the heavy-metal shredders.

Still, "The Runaways" gets it right most of the time, from the dingy dressing rooms in low-rent rock clubs to the scenes involving Kim Fowley, the veteran record producer who was the group's Svengali. (Michael Shannon, an Oscar nominee for "Revolutionary Road," gives a wicked performance as the flamboyant Fowley and his verbal confrontations with Fanning and Stewart are spot-on rock throwdowns.)

The concert scenes are thoroughly convincing with Fanning and Stewart doing their own vocals. When they launch into "Cherry Bomb," the band's first hit, in one scene, it is an astonishing replication of the power of rock 'n' roll.

It may be, as Fowley says near the end of the film, that the Runaways "were a conceptual rock project that failed." But as a film about a certain time and place in rock history, "The Runaways" largely succeeds.


•• Hollywood.com, Brian Salisbury: I love it when a film surprises me; it’s my favorite thing about being a critic. This year’s South by Southwest film festival saw the regional premiere of The Runaways a biopic of the titular all-girl rock band from the late '70s starring Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as guitarist Joan Jett. Having despised the Twilight films and doubting seriously that Stewart could act her way out of a paper bag I expected to hate this film. But what I saw from her turned out to be the biggest surprise of the festival.

I have to admit I was completely wrong about Stewart’s ability to play the goddess of punk. Stewart clearly did her homework because she is fantastic. It’s not just the eerie physical resemblance; Stewart inhabits Jett with every movement she makes. In her first few scenes the lines coming out of her mouth sounded more petulant than rebellious and I was worried. But as the movie progresses the character begins to communicate more with movement than with words and it is phenomenal. The strongest part about her performance is that she captures Joan’s raw uncompromising love for rock music.

Fanning plays Cherie with such fearless discovery that it’s impossible to take your eyes off her as she slowly discards her suburban shell and embraces the rock diva within her. Every decision she makes seems designed to reject the cutesy teen girl archetype which parallels the struggle of this pioneering punk band. Then again has anyone ever doubted the abilities of Fanning? We can try to keep her locked in a child-actor box and criticize her inflated sexual awakening but that viewpoint is not only hypocritical it criminally underestimates her talent.

As well-crafted as Fanning's and Stewart's performances are the actor who really steals this movie is Michael Shannon who plays the band's producer Kim Fowley. To say the real Fowley was a larger-than-life personality doesn’t even scratch the surface of his presence. He is a whirlwind of vulgarity and an unstoppable publicity genius. Shannon approaches the role with the kind of uninhibited mania that most actors aspire to but few can pull off without drifting into caricature. Fowley may be outrageous but Shannon keeps the character just grounded enough that given the frenzied zeitgeist of the late '70s you have no trouble believing this guy really existed just as he appears on screen.

As impressive as its performances are The Runaways is by no means a perfect film. Its storytelling and framing of events mimic the paint-by-numbers formula of the standard rock rise-and-fall tale strictly adhering to the basic biopic beat structure right down to the requisite montages. The biggest disappointment about the film is it fails to illustrate clearly the rift between Cherie and Joan that developed after the band broke up. The eventual estrangement is only touched upon at the end when we're told it resulted from of a personal falling out between the two women. It is strikingly incongruent to the events we’ve seen and demonstrates a real weakness in the script. As a result the ending feels abrupt and unsatisfying.


•• Reelfilm, David Nusair: Rating 2/4
Despite its inherently compelling subject matter, The Runaways never quite becomes anything more than a mildly entertaining look at the rise and fall of the eponymous '70s punk-rock band - as writer/director Floria Sigismondi's pervasively superficial approach is reflected in virtually all of the movie's attributes (with the proliferation of far-from-developed characters undoubtedly the most obvious victim of the film's surface-level sensibilities). The storyline follows a quintet of teenagers (Dakota Fanning's Cherie Currie, Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett, Scout Taylor-Compton's Lita Ford, Alia Shawkat's Robin, and Stella Maeve's Sandy West) as they're transformed into The Runaways by off-kilter music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the group's meteoric rise and inevitable fall. There's little doubt that The Runaways benefits substantially from the impressive efforts of its eclectic cast, with Shannon's expectedly oddball turn as the band's driving force undoubtedly standing as the movie's one consistently engaging attribute. Sigismondi's refusal to effectively flesh out the majority of the supporting figures proves disastrous, as talented performers like Stewart and Shawkat are left with little to do but strike sneering, rebellious poses (and this is to say nothing of Fanning's flat-out inability to wholeheartedly step into the shoes of her hard-bitten character). It does, as a result, go without saying that the familiar trajectory of the film's narrative is far more troublesome than one might've initially anticipated, as it becomes virtually impossible to work up any enthusiasm or interest in the group's drug-fueled downfall - which essentially cements The Runaways' place as a sporadically intriguing yet entirely underwhelming piece of work (although, to be far, it seems entirely possible that fans of the band might be more willing to overlook the movie's problems than neophytes).


•• The Diva Review: In 1984, the guitar-slinging rock goddess known as Joan Jett released an album (- That’s what they were called back then, kiddies.) called Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth. Only her most devoted fans seized on the connection between that title and the events in Jett’s life a decade prior. Onscreen, we meet Jett at the tender age of fifteen, a misfit in her location of sunny California and in her choice of instrument (- “Girls don’t play electric guitar,” an instructor tells her early on.), two factors that sewed the seeds that gave the world The Runaways, an American rock band made of teenage girls writing and performing their own songs. The Runaways is a fictionalised account based on the remembrances of Jett and Runaways’ lead singer Cheri Currie about those heady years in the mid-1970’s. All-American California blonde Currie is as much a square peg as the dark, brooding Jett, embracing the gender-bending world of British glam rock in the era of Helen Reddy and The Carpenters. Cheri’s defiant performance of David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul at the school talent show does little to enforce her popularity amongst her high school peers. It is Joan’s meeting with eccentric rock personality Kim Fowley that sets the wheels in motion for the band to come together. Fowley, a songwriter/producer sees the potential in assembling a group of attractive teenage girls and throwing them onto a stage, but not before putting them through crash courses in how to play their instruments and handle themselves in performance whether it was dodging beer bottles or seducing their audience by encouraging Cheri to be sexually aggressive behind the mic. The formula works and soon the girls are piled into a car and made to tour while Fowley stays behind. Fending for themselves with only a pliable roadie as supervision, the teenagers take full advantage of their newfound freedom to experiment with sex (- occasionally with each other) and drugs while going through the hard knocks of being a band of five young girls in a world totally dominated by men. Their star rises in the East and The Runaways are off to tour Japan when pressures finally start to crack the band’s united front. Drug abuse, petty jealousies and plain old immaturity finally doom the group, with Cherie plummeting further into free fall and Joan refusing to stay beaten by letting The Runways be her last word.

Director Floria Sigismondi’s frequent use of slow motion and hazy, overexposed yellow-stained lighting and puts one more in the mind of a teenaged girl’s fever dream than a grainy biopic. It is just the frame that is needed to capture this portrait of the short-lived band of adolescent females that burned out in glorious flames before they were seventeen. Wisely choosing to focus more on what was going on in the hearts of Jett and Currie as two girls on the edge of adulthood that didn’t fit in anywhere; Sigismondi spends much camera time in close-ups of meaningful stares, because at fifteen years old, those stares are often the only expression a teenage girl ever displays. Though tastefully handled, the license these kids had while on the road together; the abundance of drugs, alcohol and sex that would burn out most adult rock stars, is shocking even by today’s standards. We’re shown that many of Cheri’s issues stemmed from a lack of any parental guidance and with Fowley as The Runaways’ Svengali and mentor, bad behaviour was not only encouraged but advised. The Runaways captures how exploited the girls were sexually and in terms of their talent, never truly guiding their own rising star. Sigismondi (- who also wrote the screenplay) draws a believable arc from rags to riches to rags, following Cheri’s path from relative innocent too embarrassed to sing Fowley’s suggestive lyrics to their future hit, Cherry Bomb, to spoiled baby rock star, to her pitiful decline after expelling herself from her adopted Runaways family right into a sanitarium after an overdose. The director does an excellent job of showing us the seething frustration that guitarist Jett must’ve experienced knowing she had drive and talent and suddenly losing the band that was the baby she worked so hard to raise.

Great performances are what really elevate The Runaways. Kristen Stewart is a standout as Joan Jett. Mimicking perfectly Jett’s gangly, hunched posture and raccoon-eyed glare, Stewart is a dead ringer for the guitarist. Never remotely impressed with her work in the Twilight films , Stewart displays actual chops here, ranging from steely intensity in the face of The Runaways’ many obstacles (- including the girls’ inability to communicate with each other), to pulling ballsy, smart-alecky pranks on those fool enough to underestimate her, to pure, hell-bent rage when things irrevocably fall apart. It’s an amazing portrayal of the deceptively tough, vulnerable teenager who will become Joan Jett and Stewart completely pulls it off. Dakota Fanning gets tops in fearlessness just for putting on the corset, stockings and high heels that were so infamous as teenage Cherie Currie’s stage gear. She should also get a medal of valor for running around in those hilariously high platforms and only falling once. One of the most successful child stars ever, Fanning has chosen one heck of a role to announce with all clarity that the days of The Cat in the Hat and War of the Worlds are over. I wonder if fans of both Stewart and Fanning will ever look at either the same way again after their bi-curious makeout session here. As the quirky figure who led the dog meat and pony show, Michael Shannon captures the bizarre behaviour of ringleader Fowley, infusing him with the ickyness of a perverted uncle and giving him just the right nuance of menace as he simultaneously goads and harangues his “dogs” while attempting to control them. Shannon’s whacked-out, mercurial Fowley provides most of the film’s humour while keeping the audience wondering just what his motivations were with The Runaways. Though lost at times in the focus on the girls, Sigismondi’s script keeps Fowley from being a convenient, one-dimensional villain.

The Runaways is as raw and valid a coming-of-age story as any you’ll find about teenage girls made to grow up way too fast (- Original wild child Tatum O’Neal’s cameo as Cherie’s inattentive mom is ironic perfection.). Granted, the events take place thirty-five years ago in a fishbowl of excess that most teenagers (- or adults) will never experience, director Sigismondi puts it all into a narrative that makes the audience relate to the pressures universal to any American adolescent. The lives these girls lived was its own trip down the rabbit hole and through an intelligent, sensitive script and excellent performances The Runaways makes it possible for us to experience the joy and insanity of what it must’ve felt like to be in a band that changed rock history.


•• Amy Weekly: “I’m your Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bomb!” belts Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), the chaotic lead singer of The Runaways. Sorry Britney, but in 1975, the 15-year-old rock starlet patented the jailbait double entendre. Still, writer-director Floria Sigismondi’s biopic makes it clear that Cherie didn’t invent the teen temptress. The role was thrust upon her by producer/Svengali Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) who wrote her come-ons and dared her to take the act further. He knew a girl group led by a half-naked blonde would sell—he just needed a girl who looked the part, and when he spotted the fashion-obsessed Encino hipster, he molded her into a tabloid Lolita. (Yes, even in the early days of punk, looks mattered.) Like Fowley, The Runaways puts music second. It rocks attitude and sex, drugs, abandonment and kisses between Fanning and Kristen Stewart’s Joan Jett. Jett anchors the movie’s first half—she was ready to rock before she could play her guitar, and when she straps on that weapon, we see a girl determined to blast through any barrier. There’s a tough pulse to this boozy drama which takes a genuine interest—at least, for a while—in the friendships and femmepowerment that powered the band (though it makes Scout Taylor-Compton’s Lita Ford a whiny crank). It’s a feminist piece only in that it says chicks can drink, scream and screw as wild as any Rolling Stone. Thirty-five years later, their antics are bracing—we’ve been pacified by Vanessa Hudgens. Sigismondi’s film is flush with the invulnerability of youth. Moments of it feel fully alive like those last drunken whoops before a post-prom car crash. As Jett, Stewart is steely and aloof. She graces us with her cool. But this is Fanning’s movie and she cranks it up to 11. Fanning’s not just a brave young actress; she’s a brave actress. In every scene of the movie, she fights—and wins—her battle for an adult career. Cherie’s drug addiction swallows up the last half of the movie (as it also did the band’s fortunes), and though Sigismondi shunts aside her more interesting themes for a rote plot she can’t shape into a credible climax, Fanning is a scary, sexy force—awesome in every sense of the word.


•• ReelTalk, Frank Wilkins: Authentic Rock 'n Roll Spirit

There’s a seamy thread that snakes its way through The Runaways like a filthy unmentionable so forbidden, even thinking it will get you thrown in jail. The film tells the story of the rise and eventual decline of the all-girl, sub-16 year-old “jailbait” rock band from the ‘70s , The Runaways, who paved the way for future generations of girl rock bands. Undoubtedly, a lot of the band’s success came from the on-stage sexuality of its members, so appropriately the film never pulls back on the reins of depicting teen eroticism.

We get an early indication that writer director Floria Sigismondi has no interest in taking the high road of political correctness when the film’s opening scene depicts blood pouring from between the legs of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) as she gets her first period. The rock n’ roll scene in the ‘70s was a tough one, especially so for such young girls. And we’re apparently going to get it all… the sex, the drugs and the rock n’ roll. Oh, and more sex… from 15 year-olds.

Based on Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, the film limits most of its focus to founding band members Jett (Kristen Stewart), who became guitarist and principal songwriter, and singer Currie who was discovered by Jett and flamboyant record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) outside a Los Angeles disco club at the tender age of 15. With the exception of gender, the film is your basic VH1 rags-to-riches-to-rags rock ‘n roll story, but soars under the strength of the heavyweight performances of Stewart and Fanning who do a great job channeling the power that rock music carried in the ‘70s.

Not only does Sigismondi successfully document the rise and fall of the band, but the first-time filmmaker also faithfully captures the volatile climate of the 1970s, an awkward period struggling to find a purpose after the tumult of the ‘60s. A lot of social hang-ups had been lifted by the time the ‘70s rolled around, making kids feel as if most norms and mores no longer existed. The time was ripe for punk, glam, or anything else that might stir the pot of social acceptability. Fowley knew this and exploited it for maximum effect. The film is as messy and flawed as the era, but its grittiness and raw energy infuse it with an authentic rock n’ roll spirit.

Sigismondi’s lack of reluctance to depict the band members’ blatant under-aged sexuality and wanton debauchery (which involved, among other things, Currie’s donning a lacy corset and revealing panties on stage… at the age of 16) lends the film a passionate sense of authenticity and truthfulness. Sigismondi seems to revel in titillating the audience with a taboo subject that makes us quite uncomfortable… never allowing us to completely settle in. We don’t question her judgment for showing it (nor that of the actresses for their portrayals), but rather, we look at the entire establishment that allowed it to flourish. This certainly wouldn’t be met too kindly today.

Stewart’s brooding, mumbly mannerisms play nicely into Jett’s withdrawn but determined persona. It’s exciting to see her come alive on stage when she cranks up her guitar. And yes folks, that’s really Stewart singing and strumming.

Fanning excels at her depiction of the slow burn that brought down Currie’s curtain of fame and teenage innocence. Behind it was a smoldering pit of confusion, agony and misery. It’s a beautiful thing to see Fanning take us through her character’s progression.

The rock n’ roll soundtrack gives this coming-of-age story an edge as hard and bristly as the era from whence it came. It features many of the band's most well-known songs, as well as some by artists who influenced the band, such as Suzi Quattro. We’re even treated to a re-enactment of the impromptu writing of Cherry Bomb, which went on to become the band’s most commercially successful song.

On the surface, The Runaways is a movie about a rock band that flamed out too early. But the real story being told -- that of an unlikely bunch of girls who captured lightning in a bottle -- is so well handled by all involved, the movie will likely become a rock n’ roll staple alongside such classics as Velvet Goldmine and Almost Famous.


•• The Film Stage, Danny King: Rating 7/10
Floria Sigismondi‘s The Runaways is a pretty confused biopic of the all-girl rock band that formed during the 1970s. It is based on Cherie Currie’s memoir Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, but it is Joan Jett who earns an executive producer credit. It doesn’t know whether to focus on the individual performers, or the rise and fall of the band as a whole, and as a result, the film’s storyline is a pretty uninteresting one, especially if you’ve seen other rock band biopics in the past. Luckily, The Runaways has a terrific look to it, and good enough performances to draw you in, even when Sigismondi‘s script is pushing you away.

Jett (Kristen Stewart) is essentially the one who had the shocking idea to start an all-girl rock band. She spends her days strutting around L.A. jamming out on her guitar. She spares all of the loose change she has to buy the perfect leather jacket, and uses her natural swagger to introduce herself to big-time record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Never one to back away from controversy, Fowley is ecstatic at the idea of headlining an all-girl band, and sees even more dollar signs when he convinces the 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) to become the group’s lead singer.

The film never seems sure if it wants to focus more on Jett or Currie, but it is the homelife of the latter that we learn more about. She has an alcoholic father (Brett Cullen) who left home when she was young, and a selfish mother (Tatum O’Neal) who flees to Indonesia to get married. When Cherie and the band eventually begin touring internationally, her relationship with her sister Marie (Riley Keough) is tested. Marie is left at home to take care of her grandparents and unhealthy father, while Cherie is — at least at the beginning of the film — having the time of her life.

The band eventually hits it big on the international market, and from what I can tell, they were bigger in Japan than they ever were in the United States. Unfortunately, it is through this sudden fame that the group begins to go through the downfall we’re all used to seeing in rock band movies. The drugs are introduced as a bonding activity, but they eventually become a problem, particularly for the young Cherie, who is in way over her head. Of course, there is also the inevitable jealousy that sets in once the lead singer starts showing up on covers of magazines. These scenes are familiar, but the performers make them interesting.

In the film’s best performance, Kristen Stewart breathes Joan Jett. She looks every bit like the influential rock star, and I couldn’t bring myself to take my eyes off of her. I was disappointed that she wasn’t used more. Fanning‘s Currie is the main player for the most part, and while the actress does a fine job, I just couldn’t get as caught up with her character as I did with Stewart‘s. There is also Michael Shannon, who takes his blaze and flamboyance from Revolutionary Road, and brings it to a rock and roll setting. He’s just plain fun to watch.

The film also uses the music as a main character, featuring many recorded performances from both Fanning and Stewart. I like the fact that they sang their own music. Not only does it emphasize the authentic ’70s feel to the film, but it makes the band scenes seem livelier, and without that, the film could have easily run into trouble with its pacing.

The main attraction here is Stewart, and I recommend this film for the sole pleasure of seeing this talented actress begin her development into something special. She has an electric screen presence, and I can’t get over how awesome she looks in the film. My hat goes off to costume designer Carol Beadle for helping create a character with such a memorable look. Part of me wants to see Stewart take another crack at the role a few years down the line, focusing solely on Jett’s career after The Runaways. We only see about five minutes of Jett after the band splits, and, not surprisingly, they are some of the best minutes this film has to offer.


•• Antagonie: Rating 6/10
There are a number of things The Runaways does right, and virtually none that it does wrong; yet at the same time, there are very few things it does exceptionally well. Thus it falls into that set of movies that are good, altogether good, and quite perfectly enjoyable for the time that you're watching them, except that I can't shake the niggling feeling that you'd be better off spending your time doing anything else. Such is the ineffable nature, of course, of most biopics.

Compounding matters, the one thing it does absolutely wrong is a pretty dire misstep: it is a movie about the seminal punk girl group that itself fails entirely to be a punk movie. Not that it screws up the details: the Runaways swear and fuck and dress tough and scream their music. But the film itself is quite unassuming and middle-of-the-road, aggressive enough for the people who loved punk in the '70s but are not account executives and upper managers who don't ever watch anything more avant-garde than a CBS sitcom to watch comfortably. Compared to e.g. 24 Hour Party People, which looks at punk and new wave through a raucous stylistic prism, it's more than a little bit disappointing that The Runaways should have so much visually and narratively in common with e.g. Ray. One would expect a veteran music video director like Floria Sigismondi to be a little bit edgier about this, but one would be wrong.

You know the story, even if you don't know the story. In 1975, a teenage guitarist named Joan Larkin, AKA Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) has the luck to meet a producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who responds favorably to her idea for an all-girl rock group. He puts her together with a drummer, Sandy West (Stella Maeve), and then begins the search for a front-woman, a girl who sums up all of Fowley's dreams of sex and youth and anger. They find her in 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), whose personal life is not particularly happy - her dad (Brett Cullen) is a drunk, and her mom (Tatum O'Neal) is moving to Indonesia with her new husband - and whose square upbringing very quickly gives way to Fowley's desire that she become, essentially, a jailbait pin-up girl. The band gets big faster than they're ready for, and Cherie gets way in over her head with drugs and fame, and burns out before she can clamber back into being a well-rounded human being.

Ultimately, this is less the tale of The Runaways than it is The E! True Hollywood Story: Cherie Currie (it was primarily based upon her autobiography, Neon Angel, though it was produced by Jett, which may explain the sudden and intense pro-Jett turn it makes in the closing scenes). Which isn't necessarily a problem, though it leaves more than half the band with nothing to do but stand around and fill up wide shots; these roles are played by Scout Taylor-Compton (lead guitarist Lita Ford) and Alia Shawkat (composite bassist "Robin"), both of whom are "name" enough actresses that it's hard to imagine them eagerly taking what amount to cameo roles, and it's possible to imagine that the film we have was cut down from a much more expansive treatment of the band's life with the Cherie Currie material simply being the A-plot. Or maybe Taylor-Compton and Shawkat just wanted some of that Kristen Stewart magic to rub off on them.

Cheap shot! Sorry. Actually, just about the most unexpected and delightfully surprising aspect of The Runaways is its revelation that Stewart can be a perfectly good actress when she sets her mind to it - the same revelation is true of Fanning, but that was more of a "known" prior to now. Admittedly, neither of these young actresses is given many demands by the fairly un-probing screenplay (Stewart especially doesn't have to do much besides get pissed-off, though it's still more than she's done in the Twilight pictures or Adventureland), but they do what they must without fail.

In Fanning's case, this involves a lot of swearing and strutting around in suggestive clothing, and grinding about, and here is where The Runaways perhaps reveals its true colors; it's maybe not so much a story of rock life as it is a vehicle for the young actress to smoke and kiss girls and show off her post-pubescent body in a way that's absolutely less exploitative than it could have been (the Fanning/Stewart kiss is absolutely tame and vague), but certainly leaves the viewer with a queasy feeling: like her character, Fanning was 15 at the time of shooting, and all moral hand-wringing aside, some of what happens could almost qualify as child pornography, given a sufficiently lax definition of pornographic. Not unlike Fowley in reality, Sigismondi doesn't really run from the possibility that all of this is arousing, and well, it's distasteful. There, I'm a prude. Anyway, Fanning has courted such controversy before, which doesn't necessarily mean much here, but at least it's not Shocking! especially because the ad campaign has stressed it so much.

Lost in all this is what ought to be the central question: what does The Runaways say about The Runaways? Not enough: their historical importance is alluded to, but the film doesn't say anything about the music industry or '70s rock that hasn't been said, and it frankly says a lot less than some other treatments on the same topic. Here's what I know from the film: Fowley's exploitation of Currie's sexuality got in the way of the fact that the band had actual legitimate talent, and then Joan Jett started a much more famous and much better band a couple of years later. It mostly reminds me of a less adventurous and non-satiric version of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, which had more to say about the commodification of girl power and image control in the music industry 28 years ago than The Runaways is even remotely interested in thinking about.

Parts of it are great: Shannon's portrayal of Fowley as a shallow, slimy genius is right-on (his exclamation, "Jail fucking bait!" is one of the best movie moments of the first quarter of 2010), and anytime the band gets to playing, the movie rises to a whole different level, one that's legitimately dangerous and sexy and raw as hell (Stewart's vocal impersonation of Jett is scarily good, which helps). If the whole movie had stayed in that register, The Runaways could have been one of the great music biopics. But it doesn't, and what we get instead is a modestly diverting film that, at best, might reignite some interest in a good band that broke up over three decades ago.


•• People, Alynda Wheat: Rating 3/4
In a sense The Runaways is universal-regardless of age or gender, it'll make everyone feel like a creepy old man. With Fanning as Cherie Currie, alongside her New Moon costar Stewart as Joan Jett, the film charts the rise and fall of rock's first all-girl band. The script lacks substance, but the actresses deliver on style, with the tense Stewart showing some oomph as Jett. The gutsiest performance belongs to 16-year-old Fanning, who's sexy, sick and altogether unsettling, writhing in a bustier as teen "cherry bomb" Currie, leaving us feeling invigorated but filthy. Which is precisely the point.


•• Flick Filosopher, MaryAnn Johanson: Music to My Ears

Sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Angst and anger and alienation. Rags to riches to heartbreak. We’ve seen this all before… and we haven’t, either. Not like this. There hasn’t been a movie like The Runaways, one about women rockers that’s just as raw and earthy and tough and pitiless as the ones about the men are. Josie and the Pussycats and Spice World this ain’t.

Of course, the music today ain’t like it was in the 1970s, either: the sex and the rebellion has been sapped from it, and that could have been how The Runaways went down, too: defanged and niced-up. But writer-director Floria Sigismondi — a music video auteur making her feature debut — refuses to let that happen. Working from Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, by one of her subjects, Cherie Currie, she’s crafted a movie that surges with unchecked fury, that’s feminist in the best uncompromising way in how it eschews ladylike requests for equality with demands that cannot be ignored, that truly captures the “rock ’n’ roll as a bloodsport” ethos that one of its characters espouses.

And she’s made a movie about unruly female rage, something we rarely get to see on film unless a woman has lost a child or a romance. Joan Larkin — or Joan Jett, as she’s already calling herself as a high school rebel — and Cherie Currie aren’t angry for any particular reason, or at least for no reason other than the ones that boys are allowed to be angry about: They’re teenagers. The world sucks. Their families are messed up. And no one wants to let them be what they want to be. Jett has no choice but to storm out of a school lesson after the (male) music teacher coldly informs her that “girls don’t play electric guitars.” Currie gets spitwads lobbed at her at a school talent show when her glammed-up impersonation of David Bowie bewilders her fellow students.

And then Jett meets promoter Kim Fowley, who quickly overcomes his skepticism about girl guitar players when she demonstrates she can totally kick some rock ass, and he hooks her up with Currie, and the Runaways are born. Some fans of the band are upset that the film glosses over members other than Jett and Currie, but — despite the title — the film isn’t about the band so much as it’s about how two different women react to sudden fortune in different ways, how their friendship ebbs and flows in reaction to their getting tossed into the gladitorial arena of worldwide fame. (The “big in Japan” sequence is a sly embracing of the clichés of these kinds of movies while at the same time confounding them.) Kristen Stewart (New Moon, Adventureland), as Jett, and Dakota Fanning (Coraline, Push), as Currie, turn in performances that are revelatory: the promise that they both showed as child actors (and which, in Stewart’s case, has not been well served by the Twilight phenomenon) crosses over here to genuine adult talent. My only fear for them: They’ll be frustrated in years to come when they realize that very few films are going to offer them the opportunity to express themselves like they can here, as women who are as fully human and as fully fucked up as men are more typically allowed to be onscreen.

“This isn’t about women’s lib, it’s about women’s libido,” Fowley screams in one of the many wonderfully frenzied moments Michael Shannon (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Lucky You) imbues him with: he’s excited about the possibility of these chicks, and while he is ever obnoxious in how he pushes them — like when he makes the band practice dealing with heckers by hiring guys to come throw crushed beer cans and feces at them during a rehearsal — he’s never wrong. If he’s attempting to exploit them, Jett and Currie never acede and let themselves be exploited (or at least not any further than is beneficial to them). Perhaps the most truly amazing thing about The Runaways is how Sigismondi keeps all sense of the exploitive out of the film. Teenaged girls getting shit thrown at them by teenaged boys could have been deeply creepy… and so could have, say, the underaged Fanning parading around in fuck-me lingerie, or Fowley’s glee at the prospect of Currie’s appeal to music fans: “Jail-fucking-bait!” he cries. “Jack-fucking-pot!” That The Runaways manages to be about sex without being self-consciously titillating and about rage without being overputtingly bitter itself is a cinematic miracle.


•• Tony Macklin: Rating 2/5
The Runaways is not a potent cherry bomb. It's more a sputtering candle.

While not quite a dud, it's not the movie it should be. It's a packaged cake with vanilla icing and a Cherie on top. A maraschino Cherie, at that.

Based on the book Neon Angel, by lead singer Cherie Currie, The Runaways is the patchwork story of the making and breaking of the teenage all-girl rock band in the 1970s.

The band was a fresh concept; the movie is about as fresh as a Lifetime Special. Instead of being dressed in black leather, it's dressed in faux leather.

The major problem can be traced to music video director Floria Sigismondi, who is directing and screenwriting her first feature. She's a stylist, but has little grasp on dramatic arc or motivation.

Fortunately she is served well by two of her cast members. Kristen Stewart (Twilight) is credible as the raven-haired Joan Jett.

And Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, 2008) is effectively crude and noxious as music producer Kim Fowley.

Unfortunately, Sigismondi is not well served by Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Dakota was an engaging marvel as a child star -- mesmerizing and delightful.

But she's basically bland as Cherie. She's too often a cipher. Her doe eyes do not have teen spirit. She has a difficult role because her character is caught between innocence and experience, between image and family. Dakota is not able to handle the range of these elements.

She has no chemistry with Stewart as Jett, even though they share a kiss that is supposed to be dramatic.

There are few if any memorable scenes. Perhaps the most memorable is an early scene of 10th grader Cherie on stage at a school talent show lip-synching to David Bowie.

Both Cherie and Jett have posters of Bowie on their walls, but it's not a good idea for this movie to remind us of Bowie's artistry, since it badly suffers in comparison.

The Runaways is Cherie bomb unplugged.


•• Slate, Dana Stevens: The Runaways (Apparition), directed by Floria Sigismondi, draws its primary appeal from precisely the teen exploitation it decries. There's a certain tawdry B-movie satisfaction in watching the not-yet-legal child star Dakota Fanning—Satsuki's voice in My Neighbor Totoro! Fern in Charlotte's Web!—go down the tubes as Cherie Currie, the drugged-out and corset-clad lead singer of the '70s girl-punk band the Runaways. But the beats the movie hits are predictable enough that, after a rousing, raunchy opening act, the story of the group's fast rise and spectacular flameout begins to feel like an exceptionally dirty-mouthed after-school special.

Fifteen-year-old Cherie, an identical twin from a disintegrating family (her father is a fall-down drunk, and her flaky mother, played in a cameo by Tatum O'Neal, follows a boyfriend to Indonesia as the movie begins), finds solace in her record collection. In a powerful early scene, she sings along half-audibly to David Bowie's "Lady Grinning Soul" at a school talent show as her classmates mock her glam getup. Drinking pop at a Sunset Strip disco, the blond and angelic Cherie is "discovered" by the seedy record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who tells her she has the right look to front an all-girl band he's putting together. Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) is the guitarist and songwriter; the band's other three members, Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), Sandy West (Stella Maeve), and an unnamed bassist who's actually a composite character (Alia Shawkat), are barely allowed a line apiece.

In a cramped trailer that's parked in a vacant lot full of garbage, Fowley unleashes sadistic coaching ("Come on, you filthy pussies, let's rock and roll!") to hone the girls' aggressively sexual stage presence. Shannon brings his trademark near-unbearable intensity to the role of Kim Fowley—as he mocks and torments the girls, he's so awful you want to reach into the screen and throttle him—but the part is written as a pure grotesque; there's no trajectory, no back story, no character arc.

Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett is similarly underwritten, but instead of radiating unmitigated nastiness, she radiates unmitigated cool. Whether shouting down a square music teacher who tell her, "Girls don't play electric guitar," or snorting coke in an airplane bathroom, or teaching her bandmates how to masturbate while envisioning Farrah Fawcett, Joan is at all times the picture of hip rocker detachment (which Stewart's performance translates into mild, mumbling disaffection). Only Fanning's Cherie is given the chance to change during the movie, but the change she undergoes—from virginal rock aspirant to jaded, trance-eyed addict—is so familiar from earlier music biopics that it hardly registers as a plot at all. There are some shots—a close-up of Fanning with smeared mascara, a shot of an abandoned phone booth emitting a busy signal as the receiver swings back and forth—that belong on a roster of images that should be banned from movies forever. (At least no one knocks a glass off a table, signifying the death of another character off-screen.)

First-time director Sigismondi, who has made music videos for Marilyn Manson, Sheryl Crow, and the White Stripes, excels at capturing the look of the decadent mid-'70s, an era that seems, in retrospect, to have been deliberately striving for maximum ugliness. All the high-waisted jeans, glitter platform boots, and sprayed and feathered hair only make Fanning seem more like a skinny schoolgirl invading the dress-up box. Kristen Stewart looks fabulous in her brunette shag and homemade Sex Pistols T-shirt, but the scene where we watch Joan stencil that shirt is one of the movie's only glimpses of her creative process. Though Joan reminds Cherie late in the movie that "I write the songs, you just sing them," the nuts and bolts of composing and recording music—and the pleasure that the girls, or at least Joan, presumably derived from that act—is surprisingly absent from the film. The Runaways are presented as having sprung so completely from the brain of Kim Fowley that, when Joan shows up at the end in her '80s incarnation as lead singer for the Blackhearts, we never quite get why she was the one who went on to become a feminist rock icon while Cherie, after a brief solo career and years struggling with addiction, reinvented herself as a chainsaw artist.

The wispy insubstantiality of The Runaways can't be blamed on its cast—Fanning, Stewart, and Shannon are all good in their roles, even if their range is never tested. Ultimately, maybe it's OK that there's not much below the surface of this great-looking but shallow movie. It's a movie about surfaces, about the feeling of being a rock star, which Currie—on whose autobiography Neon Angel the script is based—first craves, then ODs on, then runs away from in disgust. The Runaways will be a disappointment to those who love rock'n' roll but a treat for those who love the idea of Kristen Stewart singing "I Love Rock and Roll" while jumping up and down on a bed in her underwear.


•• Music Vice, Brian Banks: It’s rare that I’ll come across a motion picture soundtrack that I can actually dig, and soundtracks themselves are usually only sought out if they succeed in carrying the vibe of a great movie, with the best soundtracks being the ones that MAKE the movie. While this release might not leave me as giddy as the CD from Tarantino’s Death Proof did, the soundtrack to the new film The Runaways is a pretty accomplished product and one that succeeds in capturing the essence of one of music’s most famous all-girl bands. I’ve yet to see the flick itself but this compilation adds to my curiosity and interest in watching this biopic about the Runaways, one of music’s most famous all-girl bands.

The music on this soundtrack is taken from the period in the late 1970’s when the Runaways were active for four brief but influential years. Choice tracks from MC5, Suzi Quatro, David Bowie, Sex Pistols and Nick Gilder provide a real snapshot of the time when the Runaways were active, and these artists would no doubt have influenced the group. Easily my favourite of all the tracks on this album is “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges, taken from their self-titled 1969 debut album – by 1975, when the Runaways started life as a band, it had been over a year since the break-up of the Stooges but of course their music lived on and this track with its delicious riff and beat is one of the best songs they ever released. There is also a track from Joan Jett, who in the aftermath of the Runaways went on to become one of the revered women in the history of rock n’ roll.

Fittingly, the other half of this album is made up of songs by the Runaways, three of them being original recordings from the band itself while there are four other songs which feature vocals from the stars of the film, actresses Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. Both girls do a surprisingly decent job, with Dakota Fanning handling two songs by herself, the pick of these being “Cherry Bomb”… is this really the same former child-actress who has only just turned 16? It’d be easy to be skeptical, but Fanning spits out the vocals in a way which is fairly reminiscent of Cherie Currie, the Runaways singer whom she portrays in the movie. “Cherry Bomb” is the best of the reproductions, and all four of these tracks are fairly true to their originals and the sound of the era – they lack the same grit but there is still enough of kick and a bite to it all to put them a notch or two above than the plastic pop atrocities that they could so easily have been.

Imitations are just that and not a scratch on the real thing, the original, yet this record could serve as a good gateway to new fans who after seeing the movie were left inspired by the story of the band and the great rock music of the ‘70s – just make sure that if you do pick this up that you also have a Stooges and Joan Jett record in your collection soon after, if not before!


•• The Christian Science Monitor, Peter Rainer: Rating B
The all-girl 1970s teenage rock band The Runaways is the subject of a new film called – what else? – “The Runaways.” It stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, the group’s two most charismatic – i.e., screwed up – members.

If, like me, you didn’t follow this cult band, the film, based on Currie’s autobiography and written and directed by rock video artist Floria Sigismondi, will probably seem fresher than it would to people who already know the lyrics to, say, “Cherry Bomb.”

Sigismondi was clearly attempting to avoid the usual rock-movie glitz-and-glory tropes, and she perhaps does too good a job. Much of “The Runaways” plays out in the key of dreary. But there’s a flinty integrity in this movie’s look at the rock grind, and Stewart and Fanning are intensely watchable.


•• Film Monthly, Carolyn Oakes: The Runaways (directed and written by Floria Sigismondi) is a satisfying film (based on Cherie Currie’s book) about girls and rock n’ roll, that is worth seeing for the outstanding performances, if not for a less than riveting sequence of events. A troubled teen by the name of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) finds a home as the lead singer of a burgeoning rock n’ roll band in the mid 1970’s, only to find this new home and world will rock her world far beyond the groundbreaking music she will help give birth to. Some say The Runaways, were the first authentic, female-driven rock band. The music speaks for itself, and I am inclined to agree with this sentiment. These women certainly paved the way for women, particularly young women, to hold their ground without apology in a field that had and has been typically male-dominated. Women were encouraged to sing sweet songs about love, and loss, as long as they didn’t get too rowdy or show raw and more aggressive emotions with the roar of a guitar, or by nearly screaming into a microphone. The Runaways did just that, if only for a short time.

While this story is powerful and important, especially for those who love music and are fascinated with its’ history, this film lacks a fervor and a specific direction. Luckily, standout performances by Michael Shannon and Kristen Stewart (out of left field) are enough to keep us watching, and to keep us caring about these young women and their mission. Stewart’s Joan Jett is a truly startling surprise. Joan Jett herself is quite an interesting and powerful persona all on her own, and yet this portrayal injects mystery and intrigue that makes her the most provocative character on screen. Stewart needs to do so little to convey Jett as she was: strong, massively talented, and a force to be reckoned with – the type to speak softly but carry a big stick. This film will leave you wanting to know even more about Jett, and that is a tribute to both Stewart and Jett herself.

Fanning is good but not great which is what we have come to expect from the impressive resume she has amassed in just 16 years. This is not her best work, and I feel certain she will prove she is a force with time. The talent is there, but it is less apparent in this portrayal then in films past. She is up to par as Currie, but still not as striking or impactful as Stewart, who steals every scene right out from under the pretty blond.

The band’s frighteningly charming and manipulative manager Kim Fowley is in the hands of the outrageously capable Michael Shannon, who some may remember from his fantastic , Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s Revolutionary Road. Shannon is magnificent as Fowley, the sharp and steadfast manager who knows how to shake these girls up to produce the best possible end result : strong, and powerful music as well as the necessary public image that these girls are tough as nails. Fowley is ruthless, but he knows how to win in the industry, and Shannon is clearly no different in his pursuit to channel Fowley’s purpose. Michael Shannon is absolutely magnetic and worthy of any accolades that may come his way, and I predict they will in spades.

The Runaways meets its’ goal in that you will be hard-pressed to leave the theater and not be humming the songs that made these girls temporary stars. Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon lift an otherwise mediocre film off the ground in performances that will knock your socks off, while being so inherently different from one another: Stewart’s grace and subtlety is such a different method from Shannon’s brilliant lunacy. If you love music, you will love The Runaways. I dare you to leave this movie and not find yourself with “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bomb!!” floating around in your head for at least a week to come.


•• Las Vegas Weekly, Josh Bell: Rating 2,5/5
Anyone who sees unbridgeable divides among various types of popular music need only look at the music biopic to see conclusive evidence that every genre is essentially the same: From country to rock to punk to jazz, musicians of all stripes have been effectively reduced to bullet-pointed clichés by filmmakers. Music-video director Floria Sigismondi, making her feature-film debut with The Runaways, dutifully lines up the same old stock elements to tell the story of the teen-girl rock band that had a brief but influential career in the 1970s: They’re poor dreamers yearning to express themselves; they’re tentatively constructing the elements of their big hit song; they’re playing small clubs and paying their dues; they’re suddenly super-famous; they’re on drugs; they’re fighting with each other; their career is over. Cue the end-title cards informing the audience what each major character is up to these days.

Those major characters in The Runaways include only two band members, lead singer Cherie Currie (Fanning) and guitarist/songwriter Joan Jett (Stewart), who form the core of the band as Los Angeles teens in 1975. The movie’s third key player is manager/guru Kim Fowley (Shannon), who recruits the band members and guides The Runaways to success using equal parts intimidation and encouragement. Neglecting the other Runaways (including guitarist Lita Ford, who went on to become a huge star in the ’80s) allows Sigismondi to more efficiently focus on the rock-movie tropes, with the relationship between Jett and Currie at the heart of the film.

Fanning and Stewart do a decent job of embodying both awkward adolescence and arrogant rock stardom, and the connection between the two at times feels genuine. But they’re let down by Sigismondi’s pedestrian script, full of too-obvious set pieces and bits of dialogue (“Girls don’t play electric guitars,” a super-square music teacher tells Jett early in the film). When Sigismondi the writer lets Sigismondi the director cut loose and shoot impressionistic moments set to pulsating rock music, the result is as thrilling as the best of the director’s music-video work. Going about the business of the familiar, plodding story, though, it’s about as unadventurous as Jett’s lame-o music teacher.


•• Miami Herald, Rene Rodriguez: Rating 2/4
"Girls don't play electric guitars," a music teacher scolds a teenage Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) early on in The Runaways. The rest of this spirited, messy movie proves just how colossally wrong that teacher was. Jett shot to superstardom in the 1980s with her band the Blackhearts on the strength of a string of radio-friendly hits marked by her defiant attitude, snarling vocals and thunderous, insanely catchy guitar hooks.

Before the Blackhearts, though, there were the Runaways, the group that taught Jett the tricky ropes of the rock-star life. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi and based partly on the memoirs of Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie (played here by Dakota Fanning), The Runaways focuses primarily on the formation of the psyches of these young women in the tumultuous 1970s - how they learned to exploit their sexuality while simultaneously overcoming the era's chauvinistic attitudes.

Coached by the sleazy promoter Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), a shady operator who puts the band together and then takes every conceivable advantage of its growing success, the Runaways finds its most receptive audience in Japan, where the group's records and concerts are huge draws. Although the band was a quartet (which also included Lita Ford), the movie focuses primarily on Jett and Currie and their radically different responses to stardom.

Stewart nails Jett's physical mannerisms and insouciant attitude, and she uses her face and gestures to subtly capture the musician's natural intelligence and wisdom: When Fowley barks "What is our product? Sex! Violence! Revolt!" Stewart shows you how Jett knows, even at her young age, not to take this huckster seriously.

But The Runaways is really the story of Currie, whom Fanning portrays as an ambitious but vulnerable girl torn between her musical dreams and family responsibilities (her twin Marie, played by Riley Keough, is constantly on her case for not helping look after their bedridden father). Currie lacked the strength and emotional armor to weather the pressures of fame as well as Jett did, and The Runaways - which opens with a close-up of Currie's menstrual blood as it hits a patch of sun-baked pavement - increasingly sets aside the music to focus on the girl's loss of spiritual innocence.

Sigismondi gives the film a raw style and beautifully faded cinematography that fit perfectly with its 1970s setting. But The Runaways ultimately feels too lethargic and conventional for the wild story it tells. The movie avoids many of the usual musical biopic cliches, but replaces them with an equally tired depiction of an innocent consumed by the wilderness she helped create, arriving at a muted, lethargic finale that is the antithesis of raucous rock 'n' roll.


•• Mountain Xpress, Ken Hanke: Rating 4,5/5
Is Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways the great rock ‘n’ roll movie it’s been tagged as in some quarters? No, probably not. It’s certainly good. It’s entertaining. It has a little edge to it. But in the end, it’s hardly some revelatory breakthrough. Instead, it’s pretty much a standard-issue rise-and-fall—and partial rise again—rock saga. In other words, it’s probably about as good a movie as the title band deserves. But it’s also something more than that thanks to the performances of Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon.

Sigismondi’s screenplay—based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story—is bold in its unvarnished and unflinching look at the Runaways, especially Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart). It—along with her frequently vibrant direction—does a good job of capturing the frenzied atmosphere of the time and of women who are too young to effectively deal with the world in which they’ve landed. The drugs, the casual—and often ambivalent—sexuality and the pressure are all well-defined. Better still, all these things are defined in a matter-of-fact manner that accepts them as part and parcel of this world. The depictions are never tabloid-esque and leering.

Unfortunately, there’s another side to Sigismondi’s screenplay—and it’s perhaps an inevitable one. The film tends to fall into clichéd showbiz drama when sketching in the backgrounds of Currie and Jett. We’re given Currie’s completely unfocused obsession with being a rock star—à la David Bowie—mostly by virtue of a school talent show where she makes herself up like Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover and lip-synchs “Lady Grinning Soul.” It sort of works, because it captures the childish enthusiasm of her quest, but it’s not wholly convincing. Jett, coming into contact with the resistance of a high-school music teacher (“Girls don’t play electric guitar”), is probably a dead-on depiction of the attitude she encountered, but it feels forced, staged and simplistic.

That said, the film manages to completely capture the almost happenstance manner in which morally and ethically dubious, strangely canny, eccentric, sexually ambiguous, bottom-of-the-barrel rock promoter Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) throws the band together and molds its members into the Runaways. Did it happen quite like this? Possibly not, but it works in the film—as both an exploitation of the young women and an empowering event for the very concept of a hard-rocking girl group. The only comparable work I can think of is the multi-part British TV film Rock Follies (1976), but there the women are all old enough to know the score and are thrown together by circumstances and a sense of something akin to desperation, not enthusiasm.

Yes, the creation and grooming of the Runaways relies heavily on genre tropes—including the crafting of their big song “Cherry Bomb” in rock-movie basic. It’s all here. You have the crummy early tours, the tabloid publicity, the sophisticated hype, the sudden fame, the descent into the so-called rock lifestyle, the disillusionment of the youthful band and the cynical practicality of the promoter. There’s even that comeback moment for Jett where the audience gets the song they’ve been expecting for the entire movie. More of it works than it has any right to, and that’s partly due to Sigismondi, but more of it is due to Stewart, Fanning and Shannon.

For both Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, the film is a revelation. Here the actresses completely shed the images they’ve both tried to break out of before. (The Runaways ought to be required viewing for all Twilight fans—if only to shake them up.) Stewart pretty much nails Joan Jett in both look and attitude. Unlike the often admirable Adventureland (2009) where I could never get past her Twilight character, I had the actual sense of Joan Jett here. If anything—possibly because it’s the showier role—Fanning is even better, capturing both the strength and vulnerability of Cherie Currie. And then there’s Michael Shannon, who first announced his greatness as an actor in William Friedkin’s little-seen Bug (2006) and then made an even greater impression as the only living thing in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road (2008). He turns the outrageous, virtually impossible Kim Fowley into something believable and real.

Should you see this film? Oh, yes. It has its faults, but it also has its strengths. Chief among those strengths are three terrific performances, though only a fool would think those performances were created in a vacuum and had nothing to do with Sigismondi’s direction. And Sigismondi scores some hits of her own. She’s definitely a filmmaker to watch—and so is her film.


•• Shadows on the wall, Rich Cline: A fascinating exploration of the effects of fame on young people, this true story is sharply directed and acted. It's also great to see a film about girl power that's this realistic and resonant. And packed with such great songs.

At only 15, Cherie Currie (Fanning) is overwhelmed when Joan Jett (Stewart) asks her to front her band The Runaways. With the encouragement of music promoter Kim Fowley (Shannon), Cherie becomes an iconic presence on stage and off, propelling the group into previously uncharted territory as female rockers. And while Joan and the other bandmates (Maeve, Taylor-Compton and Shawkat) take the lifestyle in their stride, Cherie is continually drawn back to her big sister (Keough) and absent parents (O'Neal and Cullen).

Since this film is based on Cherie's memoir, it takes her perspective from start to finish, which seems a little off-centred when it's Joan's story that we're more interested in. This isn't to say that Cherie's narrative is any less worthy of a film (it definitely is), but it leaves the movie feeling off-balance. That said, Fanning gives a startlingly full-bodied performance full of fiery bluster and an internal little-girl-lost quality that makes us reach out to her as she's consumed by the sex-and-drugs lifestyle.

Stewart is also terrific as the quintessential rock 'n' roll chick, with a steely edge that the Twilight movies never even hint at. And Shannon very nearly grabs the film right from under the actresses' feet with a colourful turn as a man who is both likeable and terrifying. Although in many ways it's the music itself that's the star; the girls' reverence for Suzi Quatro and Ziggy Stardust oozes from their pores along with their own raw voice.

Even more interesting film's depiction of rampant sexism in the industry, both overt ("girls can't be rockers") and more sinister. But through raw passion, Joan, Cherie and their band punched through the barriers. And Sigismondi tells the story with inventive camerawork, attention to telling detail and skilfully staged musical sequences. It may not be the freshest approach to the usual descent-into-addiction biopic, and it may even centre the wrong character, but it's a superior look at a pivotal time in music history.


•• Deseret News, Jeff Vice: Rating 2/4
"The Runaways" gets away from the filmmaker and the stars.

That's especially true during this music-heavy drama's muddled third act. The final segment is as cliched and as predictable as any of the many films that have chronicled the rise and fall of well-known musical figures.

Also, the film's fascination with early-teen sexuality is both creepy and disconcerting, especially since it puts actress Dakota Fanning — who was 15 when it was shot — in the role of sex kitten.

As good as Fanning is, even she and the rest of this talented cast can't save the film from its flaws and excesses.

For those unfamiliar with the Runaways, it was an ill-fated, mid-'70s rock act that paved the way for later female rockers. (Alanis Morissette, for one, owes the Runaways at least a small debt.)

This fictionalized version of events looks at things from the perspective of Cherie Currie (Fanning).

Cherie has just been "discovered" by manipulative music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). He wants her to join an all-girl rock band that he's putting together.

Other members include fellow L.A.-area teens Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and Lita Ford (Scott-Taylor Compton).

Despite a dubious, rocky start, the Runaways actually begin to gain fans, and the band even scores a record deal with a major label.

But tensions rise between the bandmates — especially when Cherie becomes the sole focus of magazine articles and Fowley's unique "promotion."

Screenwriter/director Floria Sigismondi — who adapted Currie's memoirs — doesn't seem exactly sure of what she wants to say with the film.

And she allows Shannon, as Fowley, to run roughshod over the film and the other characters. He's almost too strong of a presence, and it's a shame that Sigismondi gives so little time to Compton.

But that's not to say the female leads don't get their turn in the spotlight. Those who haven't seen Stewart act in something outside of movies with "Twilight" in their title may be pleasantly surprised.

She really nails Jett's unique swagger and presence.



•• MSN: Once, before movies and Vegas castrated him, Elvis Presley flaunted the kind of blatant backwoods sexuality calculated to outrage the clamped-down '50s. Nowadays it's rigid PC rules that censor raw language and experience, shining artificial light on the darker, less civil corners of our psyches. Of course, that's a kind of repression and, one way or another, such energy will out. Maybe that's why rock 'n' roll got invented: to blow the lid off buried rage, wet dreams, and appetites "civilized" folk keep locked in the basement.

Twenty years separate "Hound Dog" from "Cherry Bomb," the down-and-dirty declaration of independence by a jailbait rock band called the Runaways. That anthem celebrated hard-core teen-queen sexuality and challenged both good-little-girl stereotypes and rock's all-boys club. When Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie came out of the closet screaming, "Hello, world, I'm your wild child!" she was mom and dad's worst nightmare.

Sadly, "The Runaways," first-time director Floria Sigismondi's biopic about the rise and fall of the '70s tough-grrl band, is a fun ride that falls far short of fever dream. Its metabolism rarely redlines on the dangerously addictive rhythms of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, what Kim Fowley, the Runaways' sort-of founder, calls the "dance of death." (As Fowley, Michael Shannon's simply lethal: a trash-talking, flash-dressing, gender-blending monster, alternately clown and killer.)

Instead, the film breathlessly unreels snapshots of a trip that's so swift there's no stopping for deep-dish exploration, or even sufficient time for the band's "noise" to work its black magic. It's an oddly old-fashioned movie, like a dark-side after-school special that skirts the rawer, uglier aspects of femme energy running wild (sexual abuse, abortion). Despite all the raunchy language, sexed-up music, drugs and promiscuity, it's like a punked-up "Little Women."

Since the script was adapted from Currie's 1989 bio "Neon Angel" and Jett was executive producer, it's not surprising that the film focuses on the Runaways' flashy front women, pretty much treating the rest of the group as though they were incidental to the group's success and fell into oblivion the second it disbanded.

First thing you see, a splash of Cherie's red, red menstrual blood hitting the pavement, promises something tougher, a no-holds-barred dive into the power and vulnerability of female sexual identity. That primal blood should forewarn us that a radioactive cherry bomb is about to detonate, blowing old notions of rock 'n' roll and gender to smithereens.

But for the rest of the film that transgressive edge is mostly MIA. A first kiss between fellow band member Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie (Dakota Fanning) plays like something out of a teen-romance novel, the horizontal lovers suddenly backlit by a passion-red flare. The sex that follows is so tipsily shot and blurred (the pair's stoned, you know) that it's hard to tell if something carnal is cookin' or puppies are at play.

As Currie, the dauntingly talented Fanning shape-changes, in fast motion, from pretty pre-teen to David Bowie wannabe to sexpot Lolita. Facile "explanation" for her blind pursuit of flamboyant identity? Indifferent parents, naturally, especially an absentee dad. A lost child who masters the sexually jaded mask of an old soul (Fowley recruits her not because she can sing but because she resembles sex-kitten Bardot), Cherie's transparently empty, starving for love and approval. That emotional greed has sharp teeth, but the movie mostly shorthands the carnage.

When the unprepared Currie arrives at the band's trailer-park HQ to audition, Fowley and Jett free-associate the lyrics to "Cherry Bomb" on the spot, inspired by the image of sexual rebellion Cherie projects. In reality, she's still a 15-year-old square who can't bring herself to sing the more explicit lines.

Here Sigismondi manages to suggest the transformative mystery of performance, the self-defining power of acting out for an audience. There's almost nothing at the center; the song's jury-rigged, the performer's a weak sister. But somehow "Cherry Bomb" becomes authentic anthem and Cherie Currie the champion of unleashed grrl-libido, belting out her theme song in corset and garters, showcasing her crotch as boldly as Jagger or Jackson ever did.

Stewart's darkly brooding presence anchors almost every scene no matter what drama-queen antics occupy the foreground. Driven by her single-minded desire to make music, Jett's a truly tough cookie (far more appealing than sex-starved Bella Swan). How she created herself is just sketched in: her joyous purchase of a black leather jacket ("I want what he's wearing!"), her contempt for the geezer music teacher who proclaims that "girls don't play electric guitar." But because Stewart smolders with such banked power, Jett comes fully formed, her sense of self as strong as whipcord, in contrast to Currie's soft blonde ambition.

Early on, Fowley sneers that the band isn't selling women's liberation but women's libido. Later, after he and the Runaways have parted company, this onetime Svengali predicts the rockers will soon be "fat, pregnant, and living in a trailer park." That dead-end fate is, of course, implicit in the film's first scarlet splash of menstrual blood. But a musical manifesto like "Cherry Bomb" celebrates liberation as well as libido, the possibility of breaking out of the traps of biology and repression. Too bad "The Runaways" isn't wired to deliver the full force of that subversive energy.


•• Punch Drunk Movies, Dan Hudak: Rating 2/4
“The Runaways” is about an all-girl teen rock band headlined by Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. It was produced by Jett and is based on a book by Currie. Both Jett and Currie were on set during filming. Clearly this is the way they want to be remembered. Fair enough, but their story is unfocused and lacks direction.

Watching the film, one gets the sense that it’s a catharsis for Jett and Currie without regard to the other people involved. Accordingly, the other founding members of The Runaways, Lita Ford and Sandy Westgate, barely register here, leaving us with an uneven look at Currie’s personal life and an underdeveloped sense of what motivated Jett for success.

In 1975, the first all-female rock band The Runaways found international acclaim with the song “Cherry Bomb” before fizzling out under the weight of too much too soon. Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) plays Jett, a fiery, sexually ambiguous teenager with no family who just wants to rock. We never learn what drives her to play electric guitar in the boy’s club of rock n’ roll, or anything else about her personal life or motivation.

While out clubbing one night Jett meets producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”), who introduces her to singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Fowley calls the teenage girls “jailbait” as he sexes them up, makes them stars and prepares them for the animosity they’ll face.

For all that’s supposedly bold and brash about “The Runaways” – the crazy costumes, the bad-girl rebellion, the girl-on-girl kisses – none of it resonates with genuine authenticity. There’s a lot of fight and anger in these girls, but writer/director Florida Sigismondi doesn’t give them much to fight against. Once the band becomes popular, Jett only fights with Currie and Currie fights mostly with her sister (Riley Keough).

To give credit where it’s due, Stewart and Fanning are very good. Both did their own singing, and Stewart’s energy proves that she can play more than a distraught, moping teenager. As for her “New Moon” and “Eclipse” co-star Fanning, we may not be ready to see her in skimpy lingerie strutting around the stage, but man does she have talent. She’s 16, and her desire to challenge herself as an actress will serve its purpose when she chooses better projects.

The mediocrity of “The Runaways” can mostly be blamed on Sigismondi, a longtime music video director working on her first feature film. With Jett and Currie looking over her shoulder, she no doubt felt pressure to focus the film on those two characters. Understandable. But when the characters are one-dimensional and poorly developed, everything suffers.


•• Cleveland, Clint O'Connor: Because we've seen the rags-to-riches-to-rehab saga a bazillion times, and because we've witnessed scores of films about the trajectory of stars, singers, songwriters, bands and their handlers, writer-director Floria Sigismondi decided to take a fresh and clever approach in "The Runaways."

Her movie, which chronicles the mid-1970s all-girl rock sensation fronted by Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, avoids the standard storytelling of biopics. There's very little back story on most of the characters, and the other three band members are barely whispers of a shadow.

Sigismondi, known mostly for music videos, paints pictures with snippets of scenes, spare dialogue and telling close-ups that slip into the souls of teenage girls who share a common desire: the search for an identity.

Kristen Stewart, hitting more of the high notes we glimpsed in her pre-Bella days, is Jett, dark-haired, guitar-strumming, glue-sniffing "tough girl" who wants to beat the boys at their own raunch-rock game. Dakota Fanning is Currie, the David Bowie-obsessed blonde who is molded into a lead singer.

Most of all they were young, 16 and 15 when they met, "genuine jailbait" as their own promo materials boasted.

This is the "approved" bio in that it is based on Currie's memoir, "Neon Angel," and Jett is an executive producer.

The Runaways were formed in Southern California in 1975 (remember "Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb"?) by producer-manager Kim Fowley, played with suitable scenery-chewing sleaziness by Michael Shannon (so good as the bizarre but brutally honest dinner guest in "Revolutionary Road").

Fowley is interested in the gimmick and grit of his sex-selling girls gone wild. "This is not about women's lib," he bellows in the tiny trailer they call a rehearsal hall. "This is about women's libido!"

"The Runaways" expertly invokes its era of hip-hugger pants, wedge shoes, and glam rock spinning into punk, thanks to production designer Eugenio Caballero and costume designer Carol Beadle.

It also earns authenticity points because Stewart and Fanning actually play and sing. Each delivers an impressive, stripped-down raw intensity attuned to the band's garage, er, trailer, roots.

And although there is the requisite drug-addled self-destruction and clash of egos found in every band movie (and every band?), Sigismondi is careful to focus on the quiet moments, too. Jett lies in a bathtub, a rare moment alone, a song coming to her in her head. You can see the creative process. You can see her striver's determination to succeed. And feel it.


•• Hollywood News, Sean O'Connell: Rating 2,5/4
Strangely polished considering its grungy subject matter, Floria Sigismondi’s “The Runaways” sticks to the established rules of music-biopic moviemaking as it records the rise and fall of The Runaways, an unpolished, rule-breaking, female punk band that helped launch eventual rock superstars Joan Jett and Lita Ford into the stratosphere.

The music is almost secondary in “Runaways,” however, save for the band’s most recognizable hit, “Cherry Bomb.” (Which, according to Sigismondi, took 5 minutes to write, robbing the song of any mystique it might have enjoyed.) The movie’s far more interested in the amorous, taboo relationship shared between Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) – a fact that can be attributed to Sigismondi’s decision to rely on Currie’s book, “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway,” as inspiration. With Jett and Currie out front, “Runaways” overlooks, or flat-out ignores, band members Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and a bassist identified as Robin (Alia Shawkat of “Whip It” and “Arrested Development”), even though it was Micki Steele, Peggy Foster and Jackie Fox who were credited members of the band.

Details aren’t as important to “Runaways” as mood, and Sigismondi’s cast wraps their fists around the rebellion and resistance that fuelled the manufactured garage band. Pieced together in the mid-1970s, The Runaways acted as a chainsaw slicing through the indulgent glam of David Bowie, Queen, Roxy Music and Suzi Quatro. They were a refreshing blast of grrrr-ly girl power, but their fierce independence gradually tore them apart from within.

Stewart’s the right choice to play Jett, as both artists come across as social misfits visibly uncomfortable when the spotlight shines in their direction. The more Stewart shrinks inward – slumping her shoulders and cowering from our attentions, as is her tendency as a performer – the more it feeds Jett’s internal urge to express herself musically.

Fanning, meanwhile, shows remarkable maturity as Currie, bear hugging the singer’s sexuality without exploiting it for cheap thrills. “Runaways” uses Currie’s tragic story as an example (albeit an overly familiar one) or how the showbiz machinery chews up and spit out the weak. Unfortunately, we still associate 16-year-old Fanning with her precocious child-actor roles, and will struggle – temporarily – to separate that persona from her latest parts. But strong performances like the one she gives here will only speed up Fanning’s process of establishing herself as an adult actress capable of any and all subject matters.

The one person who doesn’t need any help solidifying his presence as an actor to watch is Michael Shannon, who continues to exist in a universe to separate from the actors with who he shares a scene. Remember Shannon eviscerating Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s superficial suburban couple in “Revolutionary Road?” Well, as famed music producer Kim Fowley, Shannon takes that manic identity and cranks it to 11. “Runaways” ends up being a suitable title, for whenever Shannon’s on screen, he runs away with the whole production.


•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
Based in part on the memoir "Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story," "The Runaways" is less a detail-oriented biopic of the first all-girl rock band and more a coming-of-age story where emotion takes precedence over comprehensive historical accuracy. There may yet be a more hard-hitting depiction of '70s teen group The Runaways, but that is not what this is, or needs to be. Writer-director Floria Sigismondi adeptly drops the viewer in a specific time and place, burrowing beneath the surface and finding the ambitious, somewhat broken souls of a young Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Costuming, hairstyles, production design, cinematography, music—Sigismondi gets the window dressing just right and then lets her two lead actresses run wild with juicy roles that get to the bottom of what it is like for young girls to be thrust into the limelight—and into dangerous, sexually-fraught boxes—becoming victims of hype, the media and their own immaturity before they have really had a chance to figure out who they are to themselves.

A few things 16-year-old Joan Jett does know is that she loves the electric guitar, lives to rock, and yearns for a future greater than her rough-and-tumble present. The time is 1975, and when she spots famed record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) outside a Los Angeles nightclub, she takes it upon herself to approach him and suggest something the world has never seen: a hard-rock band comprised wholly of female musicians. Sensing that Joan might be onto something, Kim introduces her to teen drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and sends them off to start practicing. The rest of the group quickly forms, with Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) as lead guitarist and fictional composite Robin Robins (Alia Shawkat) on bass. The secret ingredient, however, turns out to be 15-year-old Cherie Currie, a blonde Brigitte Bardot type plucked from a club and made the bombshell lead singer. When The Runaways finally hit the road—and later sign a record deal—Cherie is thrilled to escape her broken family life at the expense of leaving twin sister Marie behind. As is so often the case, however, the money, fame and idolatry become too much, too fast, too soon, and before long the band is hanging by a thread as interpersonal discord and a hefty drug problem on Cherie's part spin things out of control.

The Runaways made their mark in history even as it all ended just as quickly as it started. In capturing this age-old conceit in a way that doesn't feel derivative, writer-director Floria Sigismondi imparts a loose, free-floating storytelling style to "The Runaways" that refuses to bog down in self-importance, overwrought melodrama, and point-A-to-point-B plotting. Instead, she gets right down to the innate feeling of it all—the uncertainty of adolescence, the thrill of success and respect, and the dark side that comes with getting it all and not having the wisdom or life experience to know when enough is enough. Beyond the haze of 1970s sexual freedom and rising equality comes both an intoxicating excitement—on-stage performances such as Joan Jett's "I Love Playing with Fire" and Cherie Currie's "Cherry Bomb," courageously sung by the actors, pop with a rattling and catchy sense of empowerment—and, ultimately, the poignancy and danger of innocence manipulated and stolen.

As things spiral downward, Sigismondi, too, slows the frames, placing the viewer inside Cherie's blitzed state of mind—a harbinger of destruction racing at breakneck speeds. Suddenly, all of the lights, all of the screaming fans, all of the magazine covers, and all of the concerts somehow don't seem quite as fun anymore. These girls—especially Cherie—have a lot of work to do before they can ever hope to enjoy and appreciate what it is they originally wanted to do: make good music. With band members Lita Ford and Sandy West not agreeing to participate in the picture's making, they are relegated to supporting parts, usually existing in the background of shots. This is Cherie's and Joan's story all the way, and they are always front and center to the action. Their makeshift friendship and fleeting sexual intimacy with one another at the height of their rise aren't shied away from, and neither is the drinking and drugs and partying that went along with being rock stars. Whereas Joan is viewed as having her head on fairly straight—for her, she wants to be taken seriously as an artist—Cherie is the tragic little girl lost, her insecure identity taken away from her and replaced with a marketable sex kitten. With a mother in Indonesia with her latest boyfriend and a father who is usually in an alcoholic stupor, who does she have to answer to and care about her? Add this to the list of her troubles.

Michael Shannon (2008's "Revolutionary Road") is a colorfully terrific Kim Fowley, alternately manipulative and abusive as he tries to rule The Runaways and finally drives them straight into the ground. With little to do, Stella Maeve (2005's "Transamerica") and Scout Taylor-Compton (2009's "Halloween II") carve out a few memorable moments to call their own as Sandy West and Lita Ford. By comparison, Alia Shawkat (2009's "Whip It") is but a glorified extra as Robin Robins and doesn't have more than a line or two of dialogue throughout. The rightful star attractions, though, are Dakota Fanning (2009's "Push") and Kristen Stewart (2009's "Adventureland") as Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. In her most adult role to date, Fanning is fearless, radiant and altogether devastating, the life and pizzazz in Cherie's eyes slowly drained away from her until she is but a shadowless shell of her former self. There is welcome redemption for her—and something of a bittersweet happy ending when she finally talks to Joan again years later over an admittedly impersonal radio talkback line—and the actress pulls off every nuance and character arc without even a hint of artifice. In a career that goes all the way back to 2001's "I Am Sam," 16-year-old Fanning has delivered what could be her finest performance to date. Not to be outdone, Stewart is raw, real and amazingly assured as Joan Jett, getting the look, the voice and the body language down pat. Consider this just one more reason why she desperately needs to finish the "Twilight" series of movies and concentrate on better, more personal projects.

Viewers looking for an encyclopedic treatment of The Runaways would do better to research them online. However, as a slightly more abstract and humane view of what it was like in the maelstrom of the group's highs and lows, the film is edgy, thoughtful and accurate. The pacing is fast and swirling, mimicking the group's life. The soundtrack is abuzz with classic songs of decades' past, as well as a compendium of The Runaways' greatest hits. Entertainment levels are consistently high, and so is the interest in where Joan's and Cherie's lives take them. Both are good people at heart and warrant a little happiness. That they got just that turns "The Runaways" into less a sob story than a cautionary tale with a rhythmic undercurrent. Things could have turned out quite differently for Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. The film acknowledges this, and is happy to turn the other cheek.


•• Creative Loafing, Matt Brunson: Rating 2,5/4
Granted, Chewbacca is a memorable movie character, but would Star Wars have become such a huge smash had the bellowing Wookiee been the protagonist rather than Luke Skywalker? And who doesn't love the character of Peter Clemenza in The Godfather ("Leave the gun; take the cannoli"), but would we have rather spent the majority of the picture's running time following him instead of the Corleones? These are extreme examples, to be sure, but they nevertheless followed the train of thought that stuck with me throughout The Runaways, a look at the formation of the influential all-girl rock band from the latter half of the 1970s. In other words, the picture needs a lot more Joan Jett, a lot less Cherie Currie.

Always entertaining but never as penetrating as one would hope, The Runaways tinkers with historical accuracy (but not to a distracting degree) to show how five teenage girls, including Jett (played by Twilight's Kristen Stewart) and Currie (former screen moppet Dakota Fanning, suddenly 16), came together in the sun-soaked California of 1975 to create a band that would remain together for only a few years yet forge a path that would lead the way for other female musicians over the ensuing decades. The material available for a radical screen biopic is eye-popping — here's a band that rubbed shoulders with the likes of The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, for God's sake — yet writer-director Floria Sigismondi, best known for helming scores of music videos (David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Sheryl Crow, etc.), keeps her focus small, preferring to present the story as a commonplace rise-and-fall odyssey.

Even this approach would have worked had the spotlight been squarely on Jett, but instead it's Currie who receives the closest thing to a career trajectory. This makes sense considering that Sigismondi based her script on a book written by Currie (Neon Angel), but she should have chosen better source material: It's unfortunate (and probably a tad insulting) that instead of centering on the brainy woman who went on to become a trailblazer and rock icon in her own right, the picture chooses instead to follow the sexpot who fails rather than succeeds, predictably undone by the usual combo of drugs, exhaustion and incompatibility. Jett presumably has no problem with the film — she's listed as an executive producer — but there's a better movie to be made than this one. The Runaways isn't bad — it's got spirit and spunk — but it fails to really punch across this vital period in rock history.

Stewart and Fanning are both fine in their respective roles, although it's with no small measure of irony that the film's best acting comes from the only male among the principal cast. As Kim Fowley, the oddball music maven who brings the band together, Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon delivers a suitably prickly performance that taps into the character's eccentric side while also showcasing his business acumen. A fascinating figure in real life, he's seen here as the sort of man who could sell a T-bone steak to a vegan, and he drives the point home to the girls that the band "isn't about women's lib; it's about women's libido!" But Fowley quickly turns into a reptilian micromanager, and Shannon doesn't shy away from exposing his sordidness or infuriating unpredictability. It's a captivating turn, and it best punches across the messy sense of anarchy that the rest of the picture desperately needs.


•• Serious Movie Lover: Rating B
In the opening moments of her debut feature, director Floria Sigismondi—known until now for unusually creepy music videos for acts like Marilyn Manson (“Beautiful People”), David Bowie (“Dead Man Walking”), and squeaky clean Sheryl Crow (“Anything But Down”)—wants you to know that The Runaways isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill rock biopic. (For the first 90 minutes, anyway.) After a close-up slow-mo drop of blood splashes into the dirt, the shot widens to reveal its source: 15-year-old severely miniskirted Cherie Curry (played with sweet gravity by 15-year-old Dakota Fanning) just got her first period, standing on the side of the road somewhere in apparently very dusty 1975 Los Angeles. After her equally skirted older sister stuffs a pile of bathroom tissue down her panties (thanks, sis!), they meet up with her sister’s lecherous, way older boyfriend for an unpleasant and embarrassing “date” in his CreepMobile. After the sisters jab humiliations at each other—Sis telling this dude about Cherie’s period, Cherie exclaiming that her sister was currently panty-less, resulting in an obscene grope from this jerk—it’s obvious that these sisters have some issues to work out, mostly related to their broken family and alcoholic father. Cherie wants to be a star, that much is clear from her glammed-out (and mostly reviled) Ziggy Stardust-esque lip-sync performance at a school talent show. What she doesn’t know is how to become one, which leads her to the clubs, where she perfects her posing…and waits.

Across town, spunky rock misfit Joan Jett (nee Larkin) has similar dreams of stardom, an awesomely shitty sounding guitar, and the most important natural talent: ambition. After approaching the infamous outre record producer Kim Fowley with her idea of forming an all-girl rock group, Fowley immediately takes over the project and helps Jett put a band together. After adding drums, bass, and lead guitar, Fowley sits at a practice, frustrated by some missing element that he can’t discover, until he comes across a photo of Bridgett Bardot and is struck by inspiration. Stopping the band cold, he holds up the book, pointing his finger at Bardot’s crotch, exclaiming, “THAT’S what we need.” Combing the clubs for a Bardot-style frontwoman is how they find Cherie, posing at a bar. As the eccentric, obscene puppet master Fowley, Michael Shannon is wonderful here—managing to squeeze a laugh from nearly every line. His giddy ambition is summed up in one particularly memorable utterance upon hearing Cherie’s age: “Jail-fucking-bait, jack-fucking-pot.”

After an exuberant audition scene, where Fowley writes with Jett, on the spot, the classic rock anthem “Cherry Bomb” for Cherie, things start rushing by quickly, following the band through a few rehearsals, a funny busted house party gig, and a club tour awash in booze, drugs, and sex—the latter mostly between Jett and Cherie who, after bonding over similar Daddy issues and a love for name-dropping Suzi Quatro, develop a deeper connection. It is here that Sigismondi’s deft direction and sturdy script (based on Cherie Curry’s book Neon Angel) really shines, managing to spin the pace into a whirlwind without leaving the audience behind, or short shrifting the development of her characters.

Unfortunately it all awkwardly unravels a bit at the end, following (SPOILER!) Cherie’s departure, as Cherie spirals into addiction and Joan crawls out of an emotional black pit only to be suddenly inspired to become JOAN JETT, apparently deciding to cover “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” whilst jumping up and down on her bed in her panties(?). But it is the very last scene that disappoints the most, featuring JOAN JETT in her JOAN JETT outfit from her JOAN JETT album cover being interviewed on Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show and receiving an on-air call from Cherie. After 90 or so minutes of truthful, lived-in performances, this scene feels distinctly like kids playing in costumes.

But, hey, don’t let that minor letdown of an ending deter you from seeing some really strong performances. This was great casting—Kristen Stewart IS the young Joan Jett, showing a way more nuanced talent than her Twilight performances would have led you to believe her capable of, and Dakota Fanning was way better than most critics will tell you. Why do people hate Dakota Fanning? (Why, Kimberly?!) And across the board, from Tatum O’Neal as Mom Curry to the dude who weirdly played the very weird Rodney Bingenheimer, there’s not a single actor acting in sight—just funny, sad, pissed, and/or heartbroken characters as far as the eye can see.

And there’s something in this movie for everyone, really, as I discovered with my 13-year-old son’s enthusiastic endorsement: “That movie was awesome,” adding: “I just saw Kristen Stewart making out with Dakota Fanning.”


•• Tulsa World, Michael Smith: As far as music movie bio-pics go, "The Runaways" works because of its unsentimental honesty and its great music. I don't envision 15-year-old girls being given unsupervised access to drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll and this always making for a pretty picture.

But it does make for an engrossing look at the famed 1970s band of young women — including Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford — who made their mark in what had historically been a man's profession.

Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") and Dakota Fanning ("The Secret Life of Bees") portray Jett and Currie, respectively, and both are spot-on in capturing the spirit of their characters, if not the musical aptitude. Neither shows off vocals or musicianship outside of loud, head-banging performances, and yet both deliver authentic portrayals as music-loving teens.

As adapted from Currie's tell-all memoir, the film details the spectacular rise and fall of the group, but this is the Joan and Cherie story, so anyone expecting depth beyond these two characters will be disappointed in that respect.

"The Runaways" follows a predictable chronological order for a biopic, but it feels unconventional in its lack of sympathy. Too many of these films ("Walk the Line," "Great Balls of Fire" and more) aim for both warts-and-all as well as worship of the central character and miss an opportunity. This movie is harsh truth and a glimmer of hope, which may limit its commercial appeal.

Its depiction of the bond between the two leading players is wisely explored as a study in contrasts. As for musical tastes circa 1975, Joan is Chuck Berry; Cherie is David Bowie. Personality? Joan is the tough girl, androgynous in appearance and wearing leather; Cherie is the softer side of rock, the blonde beauty with delicate features.

As for ambition, Joan knows rock 'n' roll is to be her life's work, and she is unwavering in pursuing her destiny. Cherie, meanwhile, is more like most 15-year-old girls: Innocent and unexperienced at everything, she has no idea what she wants, but a chance at fame? Sure!

Michael Shannon, an Oscar nominee for "Revolutionary Road" who is gaining a reputation for scene-stealing, delivers a hilariously memorable performance as Kim Fowley, the band's notoriously eccentric manager who berates the girls into submission and convinces them to sell sex onstage through their music.

"This isn't women's lib, kiddies, it's women's libido!" screeches this hot mess of a promoter, a fidgety P.T. Barnum and a nutty example of how women continue to work in a business where their careers are balanced between artistic creativity and exploitation.

Writer-director Floria Sigismondi seems to see both sides. She shows Fowley's shepherding of the group as wacky and profane, but also effective at making them famous worldwide, in spite of the lost innocence. His lesson in how to fend off audience-thrown beer bottles with a guitar neck is priceless.

Sigismondi makes her feature debut after directing music videos for artists including Bowie, Christina Aguilera and Marilyn Manson. She creates provocative abstract images to illustrate moments when Joan and Cherie indulge in narcotics and sexual antics, giving weight to these moments without being too graphic.

Sigismondi shows a nice touch with an early scene in which Joan is buying her first leather outfit ("Give me what he's wearing," she tells the clerk in reference to a male customer, a line that works on two levels: Jett's toughness and her sexuality). The scene is a first step to her becoming the Joan Jett we know today, to becoming a girl rocker in 1975.

What song is playing inside the store during this pivotal moment? "Fujiyama Mama," the song made famous by Oklahoma native Wanda Jackson, the 1950s female rock pioneer and one of the Runaways' most significant predecessors in the field. Very nice.

"The Runaways" is extremely successful in having its actors look like their characters, and Stewart is especially remarkable. That long black shag of hair and the eyes are perfect, but she truly nails the "I Love Rock & Roll" singer with her posture, as slumped shoulders give her that odd lurching movement of Jett's.

While the script only scrapes at surface details of the story of the Runaways, the movie looks and sounds just right.


•• UT San Diego, George Varga: Rating 2,5/4
Like the pioneering all-girl rock band from Los Angeles it portrays, “The Runaways” at times exudes enough teen spirit and attitude to light up the Sunset Strip.

It also captures with vivid accuracy the look and feel of the mid-1970s, when The Runaways briefly ignited as an artistic force despite never scoring a hit record. The strong performances of “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart and precocious film veteran Dakota Fanning — who portray Runaways guitarist-singer Joan Jett and lead singer Cherie Currie, respectively — should draw viewers who weren’t born until several decades after this band imploded in 1978 after only two albums.

Less illuminating is the threadbare book this uneven movie is based on, Currie’s “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway,” which was published in 1989 in paperback only and has now been updated and reissued as a glossy hardback. That’s a shame, since there’s still a great film waiting to be made about this short-lived but highly influential band, which paved the way for the riot grrrl movement of the early 1990s and helped launch the solo careers of Runaways’ guitarist-singers Joan Jett and Lita Ford.

Currie’s own subsequent music solo career isn’t noted in the movie’s brief postscript, although her current, Spinal Tap-worthy career as a “chain saw artist” is. Then again, the postscript also omits any reference to Ford and every other alum of the band, except Jett, who is one of the co-producers of “The Runaways.”

Veteran music video director Floria Sigismondi, who makes her feature film debut with “The Runaways,” has a keen eye for visual detail, be it for capturing a raucous house party or the truly awful clothing of the time. (Yikes! Were the pre-punk days of the mid-1970s really that tacky and synthetic? Sadly, they were.)

But Sigismondi appears less concerned with factual accuracy and compelling storytelling, whether she’s addressing the band’s swaggering music or Currie’s bisexual proclivities.

As a result, “The Runaways” only sometimes rises above the usual clichés about a struggling rock band whose fleeting stardom evaporated because of intra-group feuds, commercial exploitation, drug abuse, blah, blah and, ultimately, bleh. Ironically, these flaws may be the result of Sigismondi hewing too closely to Currie’s one-dimensional book at times and inexplicably veering away from it in other instances.

The real hero of the band was the feisty, no-nonsense Jett, who plays second fiddle in the movie (but still fares much better than the other band members). That’s no surprise, since Currie’s book provides the bulk of the source material. But if Jett ever writes her autobiography, it will undoubtedly make for a far more engaging film than “The Runaways.” And if Hollywood doesn’t come knocking on the door of the real-life Fowley — who, at 71, now sports a head of dyed green hair — well, there’s just no accounting for taste.


•• Reel Reviews, Dan Lybarger: If you’ve never heard of the 1970s rockers The Runaways until recently, don’t be surprised.

Even though the band at different times featured future ‘80s and ‘90s stars Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Bangles bassist Mickie Steele, it only lasted from 1975 through 1979, and their albums never charted higher than #178 in the United States.

Their sexually forward lyrics and scorching guitar licks were out of step with the disco era, and they were better appreciated in Asia than they were here at home. This reviewer didn’t know they existed until 20 years after they had broken up, and that’s because I was in a band with a Japanese guitarist who’d brought a CD with him from home.

The rise and demise of The Runaways seems like a typical rock ‘n roll tale. As Denis Leary puts it, “I’m drunk; I’m nobody. I’m drunk; I’m famous. I’m drunk; I’m dead.” What makes their tale engrossing is that, for the most part, the members of the teen band survived a harrowing experience that might have killed more mature rockers and that they were one of the first all-female rock bands to be taken seriously.

Floria Sigismondi’s new biopic of the ill-fated group has a justified “R” rating, but it’s actually a sanitized depiction of what the women in the band went through. It also reminds viewers that Jett’s tough persona isn’t an act.

Based on a memoir by Runaways lead singer Cheri Curie (Dakota Fanning) and Jett’s recollections, the movie follows the two as they wound up reaching adulthood in a bizarrely hostile environment. While it’s hard to feel much sympathy for rich, spoiled rockers, Jett (Kristen Stewart) and company certainly didn’t start that way.

What keeps The Runaways from becoming yet another story of a group being exploited by a Svengali-like manager is that Sigismondi frames the story by having the girls learn from Fowley before slowly discovering how to develop skills that leave him in the dust.

As the annoyingly passive Bella in the Twilight films, Stewart seems lost and vacant. As the feisty Jett, however, she’s right at home. Not only can she carry a tune and wear Jett’s androgynous outfits credibly, her steely eyes indicate that she’s not going to let smug, sexist buffoons keep her from being the Queen of Rock. At the same time, Stewart gives Jett a nurturing heart, so that it’s easy to hope she’ll get fame on her own terms.

Like Stewart, Fanning handles the microphone nicely, and her familiarity as a former child star gives The Runaways an appropriately unsettling edge. She still looks enough like a kid to make Curie’s descent into drug addiction and sexual exploitation seem even more harrowing.

Sigismondi has a well-honed visual style from shooting music videos, and she does capture the look and feel of the era. She also does a credible job of presenting how the band developed. It’s fascinating to hear Jett go from a girl who can barely hold a chord into someone who can write a song in minutes (yes, as in the film, The Runaways’ signature tune “Cherry Bomb” was completed by Fowley and Jett that quickly).

As with most biopics, it’s best to treat The Runaways with skepticism. Even the surviving members of the band have wildly different memories about what happened. While the film is appropriately stomach churning, many of the more interesting aspects of the band’s history have been overlooked.

The group went through bassists the way Spinal Tap has gone through drummers. Jackie Fuchs (a k a Fox) played on two of the band’s albums and during their Japan tour but refused to cooperate with the film. The generic “Robin” (Alia Shawkat) feels like a shallow substitute. Similarly, Ford (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) barely registers, and the late drummer Sandy West’s (Stella Maeve) tragic descent into drug addiction and crime isn’t mentioned at all.

Mentioning some of the band members lives after the group had dissolved might have been interesting because Fuchs is now a successful attorney, and her replacement Victory Tischler-Blue appeared in This Is Spinal Tap and has made a fascinating but disturbing documentary about the band called Edgeplay (if you think Fowley comes off badly in The Runaways, he does himself no favors by taking part in the doc). Neither Fuchs or Tischler-Bue is famous, but it’s refreshing to learn that the two have managed to last through the demise of the band and become functioning adults.

The film might have been stronger had it focused on what Jett did after the band broke up. Her debut album Bad Reputation was rejected by 23 labels, so she and business partner Kenny Laguna (who executive produced The Runaways) founded their own label.

The two managed a brisk business selling discs from the trunk of Laguna’s car before the record companies finally jumped on the Jett bandwagon. Jett’s success as an entrepreneur and a chart topper (with the #1 song “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”) might have been more gratifying than watching the repulsive Fowley drag the women down to his own subterranean level.

Because the history and mythology of rock is grossly incomplete, a film like The Runaways is necessary. It still might have been more enjoyable to see and hear the women shredding amps as much or more than watching them chase a path of self-destruction.


•• Playback stl, Sarah Boslaugh: The Runaways successfully captures the spirit of the times.

It’s hard to communicate to people who weren’t around in the 1970s how historically important The Runaways are. In those days girls who liked rock were assigned the role of groupie, not musician, until The Runaways came along and started kicking ass and taking names. They existed as a band from 1975 to 1979, during which time which they were headliners in the U.S. as well as one of the most popular bands in Japan, recorded for Mercury Records, and opened the door for the many female rock musicians who have followed.

Short of a time machine the best way to experience this epoch-changing band is through Floria Sigismondi’s film The Runaways, which successfully captures the spirit of the times. I can’t entirely judge the factual merit of the film (the script, also by Sigismondi, is based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s autobiographical Neon Angel) but that’s not really the point. The Runaways gives you a sense of what it must have felt like to be 15 years old and go from being the girl everyone makes fun of to a rocker touring the world. It also conveys a sense of what it took to get there as well as the price paid by these young musicians.

The film is not a masterpiece—it compresses the band’s career so it seems to have lasted only about a week, focuses on only two band members (in part for legal reasons), spends too much on the sordid side of the rock business and throws in some girl-on-girl action which feels gratuitous—but it’s definitely worth seeing. The Runaways is carried by standout performances from Michael Shannon as the possibly sinister and certainly exploitative record producer Kim Fowley, Kristen Stewart (yes, the Twilight girl) as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie as well as a pulsating soundtrack of songs by The Runaways and other bands of the period.

Shannon seems to be the new Heath Ledger, disappearing into each role so completely that you hardly realize that he’s an actor playing a part. As Fowley he is by turns bizarre, threatening, avuncular and manipulative all the while keeping his eye on the main chance. Nothing surprising there: he didn’t get all those platinum albums by being sentimental. Stewart as Joan Jett is a revelation: she’s a girl who knows what she wants and knows that she’s going to get it. Fanning has the most dramatic material to work with—she’s the only character whose family we meet (it includes a dutiful sister, an alcoholic father and a bizarre mother)—but the film spends too much time on her personal troubles to the detriment of the far more interesting story of the band.

I’m slightly older than Joan Jett, so I can tell you that it was no fun being a teenage girl in the 1970s if you didn’t fit into one of the pre-approved boxes. It was acceptable in those days for music teachers to say things like “girls don’t play electric guitar” (or as I heard a university professor say, women musicians should get an education degree). The double standard was firmly in place so everyone felt free to pass judgment on girls leaving no room for the making of mistakes which should be part of growing up. Which is a long way of leading up to saying that my feelings about Kim Fowley, sleaze though he may be, are tempered by this fact: he saw the potential of these young women as musicians and helped them go for their dream when no one else was willing to do so. Of course he profited handsomely (that’s why they call it the music business, kids) and ripped them off in the process (hardly a new story in that line of work) and the band didn’t last forever, but then what does?

Since The Runaways places such emphasis on a down-and-out period of Cherie Currie’s life it’s worth noting that the band members haven’t done too badly for themselves since breaking up in 1979. Joan Jett remains a bona fide rock star, Cherie Currie recorded several solo albums and had a career as an actress before retiring to become a “chainsaw artist” (an excellent career choice for an ex-rocker if ever there was one), Lita Ford has had a modest solo career, Jackie Fox (for legal reasons replaced in The Runaways by the fictitious character played by Alia Shawkat) became an entertainment lawyer, Micki Steele played with The Bangles, and Sandy West continued to work as a drummer until her death from cancer in 2006.

•• Madison.com, Rob Thomas: "The Runaways" introduces itself and its theme of brash feminist punk with a typically in-your-face opening image: a drop of menstrual blood hitting the dirt.

From there, Floria Sigismondi's rock biopic about the late-'70s all-girl rock band just won't let up. It's Sigismondi's first feature after building an impressive career directing music videos, and she seems almost fearful of letting a boring minute go by. The performance footage of the Runaways is as thrilling as expected, but Sigismondi keeps the energy level pumped up even offstage, at least until the obligatory "VH1 Behind the Music" and-then-it-all-came-crashing-down third act.

That drop of blood belongs to Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a disaffected Southern California high schooler already cultivating an outsider chic image; we see her facing down a chorus of spitballs and boos at her high school talent show, lip-synching to a David Bowie song.

The screenplay for the movie is based on Currie's biography, "Neon Angel," so we see much more of her home life - her alcoholic dad, her distant mother, her straight-laced older sister. Her more famous fellow band member, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) is left as more of a cipher, although there is an early scene where a guitar teacher tries to start off the first lesson with "On Top Of Old Smokey." That does not go over well.

Bringing them together to start the Runaways was the flamboyant producer Kim Fowler, played by Michael Shannon as part carnival barker, part ruthless businessman and part creepy uncle. Fowler puts his band together like he's casting parts for a movie ("Part Bardot, part Bowie," he tells Currie of her look), and throws them together in a crummy trailer in the San Fernando Valley to try to become a band.

At one point, to get the band prepared for the raucous rock world, he hires a few local kids to throw garbage at them while they try to play. It's a funny scene, but it also underscores just how threatening the idea of an all-girl hard rock band was in the male-dominated 1970s. I don't think anyone would confuse the Runaways with a great band, but they were definitely a groundbreaking one.

The rise of the Runaways is dazzling entertainment, as we watch the nervous teens slowly grow into confident rockers. Stewart and Fanning totally inhabit their roles to an almost frightening degree; Stewart just simply IS Joan Jett, from the petulant sneer to her raspy lyrics to even her slouched walk.

Fanning, just a sweet-faced child star a few years ago in "Flicka" and "War of the Worlds," might seem like an odd choice to play the sex kitten Currie. But she walks the line between rock star and confused teen with surprising confidence.

For the band's signature "Cherry Bomb," she struts around the stage in front of screaming fans like a bleached-blonde Mick Jagger. And when Currie finds out that the band got a record contract, she jumps up and down excitedly on her bed like she's at a slumber party.

The whirlwind of rock, alcohol, drugs, boys, girls and more boys is fun for a while, but then Currie hits the skids (low point: stealing some of her dying father's pain meds) and the Runaways split up. Jett's rebirth in the much more successful Joan Jett and the Blackhearts is the more interesting thread to follow, but "Runaways" sticks more to Currie's bottoming-out tale.

Maybe that was Jett's call, but after putting on a hell of a show, I wish "The Runaways" had a better encore.


•• The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday: Rating 3/4
"The Runaways," a swift, stylized coming-of-age film about the germinal 1970s all-girl rock band, begins with an audacious, punk-rock flourish, when the band's lead singer, Cherie Currie, played by Dakota Fanning, unexpectedly gets her first menstrual period. The first image of this impressionistic, pared-down movie -- so distilled and formulaic that it's almost an abstract version of the classic musical biopic -- is the fateful drop of blood as it hits the L.A. pavement.

Writer-director Floria Sigismondi, making her feature debut after a career producing music videos for Marilyn Manson, the White Stripes and others, has adapted Currie's memoir of her brief blaze of rock stardom and reduced it to its most cardinal elements. "The Runaways" compresses and condenses so much of the band's nearly five-year run that it suggests they basically had one gig together in Tokyo before breaking up in a flurry of Currie's drug abuse, troubled family life and diva temperament.

Because "The Runaways" is based on Currie's book, and because Runaways co-founder Joan Jett was a producer, it's no surprise that they claim pride of place in the movie's schematic narrative. Kristen Stewart, making the most of her hunched, hooded persona, portrays Jett as the steady, serious and most sexually liberated member of the group. (Jett at one point teaches a bandmate to have an orgasm and later has an affair with Currie, an episode Sigismondi portrays in a hazy montage of drugs, rock-and-roll and roller skates.) Fanning, whose wide-eyed, sun-kissed innocence recalls Kate Hudson's breakout performance in "Almost Famous," teeters as if on Currie's own vertiginous platform heels between little girl and grown-up, in a role that often demands seeing Currie as both simultaneously.

It's a shame that "The Runaways" is told mostly from Currie's point of view (she's the only character we see living a life outside rehearsals and performances), because it's Jett's drive and ambition that seem to have held the fragile ensemble together during its brief run and that made her a star after the Runaways broke up. She remains a cipher in a film that favors tone over characterization. (As for the rest of the Runaways, here they're relegated to background noise.) Oddly, it's band manager and producer Kim Fowley -- played by Michael Shannon in a flamboyantly foul-mouthed turn as a gender-bending Svengali -- who gets the most memorable moments in "The Runaways," spouting epigrams such as "It's not about women's lib, it's about women's libido" and "It's press, not prestige."

While Jett and Currie emerge as blurry, half-formed characters, Shannon's Fowley brings the contradictions the Runaways embodied into sharp, biting focus. Even as they upended sexist stereotypes about macho strutting and who rightly claims the symbolic phallic power of an electric guitar, they were being exploited by a Fagin-like manipulator who sought only to cash in on their jailbait poses and Currie's Lolita-like presence.

Sigismondi leaves it to viewers to decide whether the Runaways were simply a manufactured novelty act, a bold expression of female empowerment or a little bit of both. Rather than polemic or literalism, she's far more interested in -- and adept at -- capturing the time and place that gave birth to the band, the 1970s Los Angeles captured so vividly in "Boogie Nights," "Dogtown and Z-Boys" and "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," whose subject, the rock impresario Rodney Bingenheimer, was part of the Runaways' scene. (He's played in the film by Keir O'Donnell.) At its best, "The Runaways" joins those films as a soaring, sympathetic ode to the outlaws, subversives and insurgents who occupy the edges of popular culture, making them safe for everyone else's dreams.


•• Popmatters, Bill Gibron: Rating 7/10
'The Runaways' vs. 'Edgeplay' - So who, exactly were The Runaways? What story are we to believe - the fact-based Joan Jett-less version forwarded by the otherwise intriguing documentary Edgeplay, or the fascinating if flawed biopic from Italian director Floria Sigismondi. The former is like the equally excellent look at the short-lived career of punk icons The Sex Pistols (The Filth and the Fury), minus the participation of someone like John Lydon, while the latter plays like a clean-up version of every rock bands rise to fame. Maybe somewhere in between lies the actual story, a complicated tale of teenage dreams and individual exploitation. And circling it all like a gigantic industry sleazebag is producer turned proto-pedophile Kim Fowley.

Both films follow the same basic narrative path. A group of lost girls in mid-Me Decade LA hook up with a seasoned media huckster long past his prime, put together a hormonally charged music act, and struggle to be taken seriously. Without Jett’s input in Edgeplay (she refused to participate and even disallowed the use of any song she co-wrote or sang), the tale becomes one of Fowley’s Fagan and the rest of the band’s pseudo slutbag street urchins. Oddly enough, the whole Malcolm McLaren/individual manipulation angle is everpresent and quite shocking in its upfront nature.

In Sigimondi’s fictional film (based on Currie’s recent memoirs), we learn of Jett’s desire to distance herself from her horrible life and start a band. As played by Twilight talent Kristen Stewart, she’s a series of planned poses and power chords just waiting for a stage to dominate. Fowley (brilliantly realized by an amazing Michael Shannon) comes along, all cockiness - both figuratively and literally - and slaps a bunch of equally underage babes into a possible product. The missing piece (get it?) - Cherie Currie, a blonde bombshell who can sell sex to all the boys. As essayed by Dakota Fanning, we get the requisite naiveté followed by the full grrrl power pout.

The Runaways often skirts depth or dimension in favor of flare and formulaic rock and roll realities. As a filmmaker, Sigismondi does her best to breathe life into the era, taking period piece facets and making them mean more than they originally did (especially the hairdos). But then she fails to fully realize what’s really interesting about the band - the fact that five girls could more or less hold their own in an arena where few, if any, had succeeded before.

There should have been more playing, more rehearsal footage and time spent in the insular world of the band. Instead, The Runaways gives Stewart and Fanning room to run, and then hopes Shannon’s Fowley will keep the guys in check. The results are often exhilarating and frequently uneven. Just when we think Sigismondi will build up a big head of steam, she settles back into introspective mode and the movie retreats with her. At least Edgeplay had the nuance of a narrative constantly evolving, interview after interview building layers and filling in the blanks for a far more fascinating portrait. While fiction might be more visually compelling, the truth resonates with much more emotion and soul.

Still, The Runaways remains an above-average attempt to illustrate the limited ups and bottomless downs of life in service to the business of show. The acting is excellent and the first hour shimmers with some unsuspected surprises. While it appears impossible to make a movie about real people and not have it suffer from genre stereotyping, director Sigismondi tries and her efforts are worth noting. Still, something like Edgeplay reminds us that nothing hits home harder than the real deal. Even with one major missing participant, hearing the skewed truth from the horse’s mouth is a lot better than having someone revamp and visualize it for us. During their heyday, the band was often called the Queens of Noise. Now, nearly four decades later, that din you hear isn’t music - it’s the sound of people getting their story straight.


•• Waterton Daily Times, Adam Tobias: Rating 3,5/5
From the very first moment of “The Runaways” when a drop of blood hits the pavement, director/writer Floria Sigis-mondi makes it abundantly clear that her film is not going to be some cute and cuddly coming-of-age story.

But when we're talking about a movie that centers on the 1970s hell-raising all-girls band that blazed the white hot trail for other estrogen-filled rock ‘n roll groups, would you really expect anything else?

Sigismondi, who makes her feature film debut, takes the rose-colored lenses off the cameras and provides us with a sometimes startling look at the rise and fall of the defiant rock band that made household names out of Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford.

It makes complete sense that Sigismondi would be the one to helm “The Runaways,” seeing as she is best known for her work as a music video director for such performers as Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Björk and The White Stripes. But even though the film's musical numbers are loud, bright and flashy, Sigismondi also has a tight enough grasp on her maiden voyage behind the movie camera that she's effectively able to handle something with a little more substance and depth.

Highly stylized and often vibrant, “The Runaways” is at its best when it's at its most simple. Sigismondi, who adapted the screenplay from Currie's novel, “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway,” paints an electrifying portrait of how a troupe of rebellious punk girls overcame adversity to succeed in a man's world. (With its grainy images and historically accurate costumes and settings, Sigismondi captures the look and feel of the era so flawlessly that you could swear her film was actually made in the '70s.)

Now, “The Runaways” could have certainly turned into an excuse to shove feminism down our throats, but Sigismondi tells the teen lassies' story in such a way that it never seems like she is wagging her finger at you. Her subjects are just one of the guys anyway, so even the manliest of viewers like myself can relate to the material.

Furthermore, Sigismondi's female characters are also so vivid and pulsating with verisimilitude that you'll indubitably find yourself rooting for them to make a stand against their male counterparts. (A scene that shows Jett's first guitar lesson is pretty humorous and eye-opening. Jett's instructor, who tells her girls don't play electric guitars, wants her to strum “On Top of Old Smokey” but she wants to give a rendition of “Smoke on the Water.”)

But none of this would have even been possible if it were not for the amazing and genuine performances from Kristen Stewart, who portrays the raven-haired, leather jacket-wearing Jett, and Dakota Fanning, who plays the blond vixen Currie. It's a massive benefit that they both look the part, but they are also able to get inside of the ticking femme-bombs so we know exactly what they were thinking and feeling.

Stewart proves she has the ability to do more than just bite her lip and sulk as Bella in the “Twilight” series, and I think it's safe to say Fanning is no longer the innocent little girl we've gotten used to seeing in such films as “Charlotte's Web” and 2005's “War of the Worlds.” (“Twilight” fans might gasp in horror when they see two of their favorite budding stars inhaling handfuls of drugs and taking part in a make-out scene together.) With “The Runaways,” Stewart and Fanning have shown they have incredible range, and it appears as though the two have very promising careers ahead of them.

However, the most entertaining performance of all comes from Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”), who plays Kim Fowley, the band's wild and volatile manager. Fowley's methods are questionable to say the least, but he knew sex sells like hotcakes, and the film is infused with unrestrained energy whenever Shannon appears on the screen.

“The Runaways” hits its high note when Fowley puts the band together and unleashes his creation (You have to wonder if he really came up with the lyrics for “Cherry Bomb” on the fly during a rehearsal in a decrepit old trailer.), but the movie rapidly falls from its plateau as soon as they go on tours around the world. It's at this moment when “The Runaways” transforms into a drawn-out, run-of-the mill music biopic that dwells too much on the downfall of the band, which, predictably, was caused by jealousy and substance abuse.

And although “The Runaways” is about the band as a whole, a good portion of the running time is spent spotlighting Currie's life and the struggles with her family, which is understandable given the fact the film is based on her autobiography. But that doesn't always make for an arousing movie, and if I would have been given the choice, I would've put a greater focus on Jett, who seems like the more interesting of the two.

Who knows though, maybe “The Runaways” will spark enough interest that someday someone will decide to make a film exclusively on her. And if that time eventually does get here, then I guess we'll just have to put another dime in the jukebox, baby.


•• The Detroit News, Tom Long: Stewart sparkles, Fanning fizzles in 'Runaways'

Quasi-innocent youth joins a band to break free from a bad background. Raucous fun is had climbing the ladder to success. Then drugs and booze enter the scene. Budding star becomes an addict and things go downhill.

That's the morality tale at the center of most movies about musicians, and sad to say it's also at the center of "The Runaways," the biopic that tracks the brief history of the all-girl rock group that made some noise and broke some ground in the mid-'70s.

Aside from following the clichéd (if real) storyline, "The Runaways" is plagued by something of a split personality, thanks to its two young stars.

Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") plays the young, ambitious Joan Jett, by far the most successful member of the band after it broke up. Stewart just plain nails the role -- she's tough, she's hungry and she loves playing rock star as much as she loves playing guitar. Stewart makes you want to watch the movie.

That's the good news. The bad news is former child star Dakota Fanning playing Cherie Currie, the group's lead singer and underage sex bomb.

Simply put, Fanning generates no heat, no matter how many fishnet stockings and corsets she tries on. As a result, the entire jailbait tease thing that Currie was selling comes off more pathetic than stirring.

Otherwise, "The Runaways" is pretty typical rock movie stuff, although Michael Shannon is hilarious as the band's raunchy Svengali, Kim Fowley.

Writer-director Floria Sigismondi, working from Currie's memoir, likes the odd outrageous moment and sexual innuendo; but really she's just spinning one more yarn about a nice girl devoured by celebrity, and the film suffers from that familiarity.

By the film's end, you really wish you'd seen Kristen Stewart starring in "The Joan Jett Story." Now that would rock.


•• NOLA.com, Mike Scott: Rating 2,5/4
The problem with "The Runaways" the movie, the new girl-power drama based on the band's meteoric rise and precipitous fall, is that it does the opposite.

What works: The performances, particuarly from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, stand out.

What doesn't: Writer-director Florida Sigismondi's story never really finds a groove, and never distinguishes itself from any other band biopic.

The obligatory evolution-of-a-song scene (in this case "Cherry Bomb") feels contrived, as it almost always does in this kind of film. The musical numbers -- oddly enough, coming as they do from video director Sigismondi -- feel uninspired. Huge chunks of the film's third act feel disjointed.

Fortunately, for Sigismondi and for her film -- for which she penned the screenplay -- she's got a top-shelf cast to hang her hat on. In addition to the always reliable Michael Shannon, who plays the band's flamboyant architect and manager, Kim Fowley, with a hilarious larger-than-lifeness, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning both get a chance to shine.

They play Runaways members Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, and they power the film through its lulls by the sheer force of their performances.

In fact, their characters are the only of the five band members who get anything resembling a story arc in "The Runaways." Ford, drummer Sandy West and composite character "Robin" -- played, respectively by Scout Taylor-Compton, Stella Maeve and Alia Shawkat ("Arrested Development") -- are little more than background singers in Sigismondi's telling.

No wonder Ford gets so ticked when she senses that the pill-popping Currie is hogging too much of the spotlight.

For her part, Stewart has Jett down pat: her strut, her slouch, her sexiness. This is a performance that goes far beyond Jett's shag haircut, and it's great to see Stewart -- who shot "Welcome to the Rileys" in New Orleans in late 2008 -- do her thing in a role that involves neither vampires nor werewolves.

The even juicier role goes to Fanning, who plays the band's 16-year-old lead singer and the source of the friction that would eventually rip it apart. It's not the most flattering of roles -- she starts out as a brat and devolves into a misguided junkie -- but it's one that the young Fanning tackles with a world-weariness seemingly beyond her years.

She's handled such demanding roles before -- her turns in "The Secret Life of Bees" and the little-seen "Hound Dog" come to mind -- and she continues to show her talent, and her sheer guts, with "The Runaways."

Her performance -- in addition to that of Stewart, Shannon and, in a small but amusing role as the prim mother of the kind of rebellious girl she once was, Tatum O'Neal -- is alone worth the price of admission.

Well, that and the extra bounce that is bound to be added to your step after hearing the Joan Jett tunes play over the end credits.


•• Poptimal: The Runaways was not a disappointment. It was a well filmed, well acted, and well-scripted movie that really surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to get lost in the seventies when I came into the theater. As much as I love Kristen Stewart, I’d began to feel that she brought too much of herself into her roles. In this film though, she brought just the right amount the make the performance gritty, edgy, and determined. She was Joan Jett with a Kristen Stewart spin.

The movie stars Stewart as Joan Jett and her Twilight Saga: New Moon co-star Dakota Fanning as Cherie Curie. Audiences get a glimpse into what life was like for the two Los Angeles teenagers in the 1970’s and the founding of their all girls rock band The Runaways. We see what family life was like for Curie especially who was only fifteen when she joined. The film chronicles the rise of the group to their fall with a lot of drugs and alcohol in between. Also starring Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West, Scout Taylor-Compton as lead guitarist Lita Ford, Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development) as bassist Robin, Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the band’s manager and producer, and Riley Keough (daughter of Lisa Marie Presley and granddaughter of Elvis Presley) as Marie, Cherie’s sister.I really enjoyed the performances given by the actors especially Fanning’s portrayal of Curie, which at times were frighteningly real. As the young lead vocalist further descends into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Fanning plays a believable fifteen year old who is angry and rebellious. Director Floria Sigismondi captured an intensely intimate scene between Curie and Jett that’s generated lot of buzz on the Internet for good reason too. Stewart and Fanning sizzled with their on screen chemistry that was incredibly surprising even to me. I had been worried that Stewart would bring too much of Bella Swann into this role, but nothing could be more different in a great way. She became Joan Jett. This film is also a great transitional vehicle for Fanning to play more adult roles and out of her child actor mold.

I’d recommend this movie to anyone looking to see a great making the band biopic. The actors gave solid performances and even sounded great singing some of the most well known songs by The Runaways. Michael Shannon’s Kim Fowley was awesomely twisted in representing some of the more negative aspects of the music industry. It’s also a great look at what the rock and roll scene was like back in the seventies dominated by men and the lack of female groups.


•• The Daily Collegian, Kate MacDonald: If you ask people about the 1970s girl band The Runaways, you might get a few lines from their hit “Cherry Bomb” or a Joan Jett reference, but chances are, most people these days don’t know them too well. They will, namely because of Floria Sigismondi’s new film starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, also titled “The Runaways.”

“The Runaways” tells the story of five girls trying to make it big in the male-dominated world of 70s rock. They fall under the tutelage of Kim Fowler (played extremely well by Michael Shannon), who not only gathers the girls together, but becomes the band’s manager and producer.

Under Fowler, the band is formed, with Joan Jett on rhythm guitar, Cherie Currie as lead vocalist, Sandy West on drums, Lita Ford as lead guitarist, and Robin, the bassist. Robin represented Jackie Fox, who did not want to be seen in the movie adaptation of the band’s lives.Sigismondi really plunged the audience into the 70s underground world of grunge during some of the scenes with Fowler and the girls practicing. For instance, Fowler had to teach the girls to toughen up. This was necessary after Currie, played by not-so-nice girl Dakota Fanning, brought in a slow love song to sing in their first practice. Viewers may find it amusing to see young kids (bribed by the manager) at practices heckling the girls. To even more laughter, Jett seems to be thrilled when she finds she can hit trash chucked on stage with her guitar, swinging like a baseball player.

What is very clear, though, is that the laughs are few and far between in “The Runaways.” The audience must watch as Currie goes from being a good girl from a broken home to becoming a full-on drug addict. Though she’s clearly portrayed as the worst of the lot, the whole group experiments with drugs and sex. It also features some lesbian scenes between Jett and Currie.

It’s almost surprising to see the transformation of Dakota Fanning from the ultimate cute, good girl to Currie, a bombshell and addict. The star, known for playing sweethearts in “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Secret Life of Bees,” however, seems like a natural in “The Runaways.”

Kristen Stewart, however, steals the show. Known around the world for her portrayal of “Bella” in “Twilight,” many people put her in the waif category, as her most well-known character is a lovesick, obsessed teenager. In “The Runaways,” though, Stewart really proves her talent. She is Joan Jett, no question about it. There is the fact they bear a striking resemblance, but her mannerisms and harsh, aggressive attitude mimic the real-life 70s rocker, who had no use for boys.

There’s almost no concrete plot line to the film, other than to show the band’s formation and ultimate demise and how they handled everything thrown at them in between – be it fame, sex or drugs. Interestingly, though, it’s not boring. From Currie’s first performance lip-synching David Bowie to Jett’s aggressive meeting with Fowler, the audience won’t be able to look away.

The film hits its peak, though, when the girls go on their first tour. It may be worth it only to watch how their fame made them nearly as popular as The Beatles in Japan. This culminates in the scene where they perform “Cherry Bomb,” sung well by Fanning. It’s nearly impossible to tell which songs on the soundtrack to “The Runaways” were sung by Fanning and Stewart apart from the Currie and Jett hits.

The only real downfall to the movie is the fact that other actresses playing band members, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton and Alia Shawkat, did not get a chance to shine. “The Runaways” was almost entirely about the path Currie and Jett took, which makes sense, given their relationship and the fact that Jett was an executive producer of the film.

The basic story of the tough all-girl band was told pretty quickly and wrapped up even faster. “The Runaways,” though, is the type of movie which will probably inspire girls and maybe even guys to research further the past of the band. This movie will probably give The Runaways a few more fans, at least.

Chances are many girls around the country will see “The Runaways” purely because the “Twilight” star is a lead. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking to assume they’ll be exposed to more culture after seeing the story of this epic band. But, as The Runaways paved the way for girl bands today, perhaps Sigismondi’s film will be an inspiration for girls in the future.


•• Seven Days, Rick Kisonak: Rating 2,5/5
There’s something ultimately unsatisfying about photographer/music video director Floria Sigismondi’s feature debut. The problem isn’t that it hits so many traditional rock biopic notes. The problem is that it purports to tell the story of a manufactured ’70s all-girl band and, when it’s over, the character you remember most vividly is the guy who did the manufacturing.

As flamboyant producer-puppetmaster Kim Fowley, Michael Shannon dominates the movie as thoroughly as Fowley dominated the five underage California girls he recruited to form the Runaways. Shannon’s a powerful actor, but the reason he walks away with the film is Sigismondi’s weak script. She borrows the broad strokes of the group’s rise and fall from Neon Angel, the 1989 memoir by lead singer Cherie Currie, but she lacks the narrative chops to turn that outline into a story that goes more than skin deep.

Sigismondi’s first mistake, in fact, is focusing on Currie, a vacuous blond Bowie wannabe, instead of on the Runaways’ most talented and enduring alumna, Joan Jett. The movie’s early scenes depict the fortuitous confrontation between the leather-jacketed young rocker — channeled to perfection by Kristen Stewart — and the twitchy Sunset Strip Svengali. Jett practically puts dollar signs in Fowley’s eyes when she tells him about her plan to form a band made up exclusively of teenage girls, and the two scour the L.A. club scene in search of the perfect front person.

Dakota Fanning plays Currie, a lost soul with family problems (mom’s a bitch, dad’s a drunk) who’s selected strictly on the basis of her looks and jailbait status. “I like your style,” the impresario announces after spotting the 15-year-old in a crowded joint one night. “Want to be in a band?” By this time, the rest of the group has miraculously assembled and become a tight, hard-rocking machine rehearsing in a squalid Valley trailer that serves as boot camp for the demented drill sergeant. Currie can’t sing a note. Within weeks, she’s transformed by Fowley into a snarling tigress in platform shoes.

That is to say, the real Cherie Currie was. Fanning never quite convinces in the role. Not as a tough-as-nails trailblazer. Not as a conflicted victim of fame once the Runaways attain it. Least of all as a casualty of the road who one day decides to just say no to stardom and walks away from everything she always wanted without a word of explanation.

Stewart has the opposite problem here. She’s completely believable as Jett, but, until its final scene, Sigismondi’s script keeps her on a leash, relegating her to second string and denying her an opportunity to reveal the thunder god it’s fully apparent she’s born to be. Only in the movie’s last moments, which hint at her second coming as the stadium-filling leader of the Blackhearts (with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” blasting in the background) does she get her close-up. It’s a thrilling couple of minutes against which everything that precedes it unfortunately pales.

As an overgrown music video, The Runaways suffices nicely. The songs are hardly timeless, but they’re fun and sound great — having been rerecorded for the film by Jett, who executive produced.

As a movie, on the other hand, it’s a bit of a tease. These five girls rewrote the rules of rock. They boldly went where no young women had gone before. It would have been nice to learn more about them as human beings, to discover what made them capable of accomplishing that. Of even wanting that. Sigismondi’s film never gets around to asking such questions, much less answering them.


•• NewsReview, Bob Grimm: Rating 2/5
Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are phenomenal as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, founding members of the legendary all-girl rock band The Runaways. They look the parts, they do their own flat-out fantastic singing, and they come to the movie party guns a blazin’. Unfortunately, writer-director Floria Sigismondi’s film loses it’s way around the halfway point and becomes just another story of rock ’n’ roll excess and celebrity downfall. Yes, Currie’s descent into drugs was a quick one, but this film portrays her descent in an annoyingly obvious, paint-by-numbers manner. They fail to give us the real reasons why Currie succumbed to the bad side of fame. She just succumbs, and it’s unconvincing. That said, Fanning’s version of “Cherry Bomb” is remarkable stuff, and I thought she was lip-synching Currie. Ditto for Stewart, who nails every aspect of Jett. It pisses me off that the movie lets them down.

•• Maki at the movies, Greg Maki: Rating B+
Fanning and Stewart perform their own singing and do an admirable job; Stewart's vocal impersonation of Jett is uncanny, and she shows she can be a compelling performer when allowed to do something other than mope around a Twilight movie. Stewart is something of a revelation, full of fire and attitude but also showing the drive and professionalism that, after The Runaways' breakup, propelled Jett to a successful solo career that continues to this day.

The friendship of Currie and Jett is the heart of the movie, and the emotional climax occurs in a simple yet lovely scene in which the two do nothing more than talk to each other.

Stewart and Fanning join Shannon in a trio of wonderful performances that are the movie's greatest assets.

The screenwriter and director is Floria Sigismondi, making her feature debut after compiling a music video resume diverse enough to include such artists as David Bowie, Christina Aguilera, Sheryl Crow and Marilyn Manson. The Runaways is a typical story of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but it's told with style and energy that keep it from bogging down amid the clichés.


•• The Vine: Yes, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning star in this one, but for anyone expecting a natural progression from a certain vampire series, a word of warning (or endorsement, depending on your point of view): The Runaways is dripping with sex. It’s about music fuelled by the furious desire to have an orgasm, a celebration of the X chromosome, chicks with guitars and other feminist thesis fodder. The Runaways is just the latest band biopic to vamp on that familiar riff of sex, drugs and you-know-what, but with the girls finally taking centrestage. Played by Kristen Stewart, Joan Jett exudes badass. Shag-haired and clad in a guy’s studded leather jacket – there are precious few female role models for her to look up to – she’s hell-bent on breaking some strings and blowing some amps. When a music teacher informs her that “Girls don’t play electric guitar,” she chooses to take it as a personal challenge. Providing counterpoint is Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, a platinum blonde nymphet who is just as much a rebel and misfit as Joan; she is quietly, perversely pleased by the violent reception she gets for her David Bowie lip-sync performance at a school talent show.

Joan and Cherie (and a couple of not-as-important band members) come together under the tattered wing of rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road). The Runaways are born in a derelict trailer park, with Joan on the axe and Cherie rocking the mic, as they promptly bust out their feisty classic ‘Cherry Bomb’ with next to no effort.

First-time feature director Floria Sigismondi has been lurking in the darkest corners of the music video world for almost two decades now. She was the one who gave Sigur Ros’s ‘Untitled’ a moody dystopian playground, treated Jack White like a marionette in the vaguely bestial clip for ‘Blue Orchid’ and turned Muse’s ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ into a piece of body-contorting performance art. Most recently she conjured some black magic for the heavily-Goth clip of the Dead Weather’s ‘Die by the Drop’.

As you might expect from Sigismondi’s credentials, The Runaways looks and sounds great. It has a grainy, gritty visual style that perfectly complements the rough-edged energy of the music. What lets it down is the script, which seems to have been assembled out of hazy memories during a bad hangover. It was based on Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, Cherie Currie’s 1989 memoir, which partially explains why the movie turns into the story of Cherie – the one who ended up running away from The Runaways. There is, subsequently a big blind spot where Joan’s personal journey should be. One gets the impression she ceases to exist when she unstraps her guitar. It’s a missed opportunity.

That said, Kristen Stewart looks good in a leather jacket, and is terrific as Joan Jett. Heck, when she knocks together her own Sex Pistols T-shirt and casually flips herself the V in the mirror as she’s trying it on, you believe she is Joan Jett. Unlike Robert Pattinson, whose dreadful Remember Me opened a week earlier Stateside, Stewart proves herself a very capable performer, and leaves the Twihards coughing dust in her wake. It was a calculated decision to leave Bella Swan far behind, but the right one to make. Dakota Fanning is also remarkable as the girl thrust unprepared into fame, no doubt a story she knows well. Thing is, it’s hard to get behind her the way you want to, since Sigismondi has a knack for moving on quickly just as things are getting interesting – the film, for instance, hints at a relationship between Joan and Cherie but then doesn’t know what to do with it. Perhaps another byproduct of Sigismondi’s music video experience: she doesn’t want to linger for fear of being boring.

Just as the original band owed their success to part-manager, part-pimp Kim Fowley, this movie gets it mojo from Michael Shannon, who is in a class of his own as the cocksure Fowley training his chicks. It’s Fowley that brands the girls as fetish objects, works them like a drill sergeant at band boot camp, exploits them, abuses them. (Verbally that is. It’s been suggested that Fowley abused them in ways not purely verbal, but that isn’t addressed here.) It’s a fierce performance of the sort of character you only get in real life – since in fiction he’d probably need some redemptive qualities.

America didn’t really warm to all-girl ’70s rock group The Runaways the first time round. They barely made a dent in the charts and disbanded after five years. If this film achieves anything, it’s bringing Joan Jett and The Runaways to a whole new audience, which is nice. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite manage to rock as hard as The Runaways did.