Being a teenager isn’t exactly something new to you, you may still feel that rawness, that rippling desire to be free, the anger and contempt of authority, and perhaps a willingness to stand out of the mind-numbing crowds and be counted. Never before, however, have you seen it so unpretentiously captured on film as it has been in this year’s rock band biopic The Runaways. Based on the book Neon Angels; A Memoir of a Runaway penned by lead singer Cherie Curie and directed by the highly esteemed Floria Sigismondi, the film documents the very first teenage, all-girl, hard rock band formed in 1975. The Runaways were only together four years, but in such a small space of time they grew up, and fast.
Out now on DVD
Beginning with 14-year-old Currie’s first period on the sidewalk of busy road, it would be fair to say the film starts as it means to go on. Played by the well known child star Dakota Fanning you can see why this would be her perfect breakout role. Honest, and at times harrowingly candid, especially considering the age of the girls involved, it does the job of justly representing the band from shaky formation to thorny finish. Becoming part of the male dominated, rock ‘n’ roll circus as young girls immediately labelled The Runaways as a firm minority, and the issues that faced the band as icons of change in the music industry features strongly through the portrayal of tough kid, guitarist Joan Jett. Performed by a surprisingly competent Kristen Stewart, Jett battles relentlessly with the oppressive and often negative media attention the band attracted; it’s apparent from the beginning that Jett just wants to play music, and more importantly, she wants people to listen.
The catalyst for the band’s success, the tomboyish, leather clad Jett, first spots record producer Kim Fowley outside a nightclub and tells him of her desire to form an all girl rock band. Fowley, a lover of the unknown musician became the band’s manager, producer and co-writer and to this day he is still the very same bizarre cult figure seen on film in The Runaways. But the band is missing a singer, so Fowley with the concept of taking on a blonde siren frontwoman approaches the underage Curie in a nightclub and she is swiftly persuaded to become a part of his musical vision. He quips to Curie: “I like your style. A little Bowie, a little Bardot, that look on your face that says you could kick the sh** out of a truck driver.” Focussing strongly on the highs and lows of Jett and Currie’s relationship, viewers rivetingly learn of the struggle the band mates have between the jail-bait image of Currie and the somewhat feminist ideals of lyricist Jett.
Steamy sex scenes involving Stewart and Fanning as the young band members, the habitual drug use and the eventual overdose of fifteen year old Currie in a Japanese hotel whilst on tour classically and adequately fulfils the archetypal schedule of ‘things to see and do in a rock band’. But it’s the unusual female set-up that creates an aura of controversy. The music is as raw and true as the teenagers themselves with raging guitar solos and sexually explicit lyrics. The Runaways go where no band has gone before, and it’s cemented early on in the film when Jett receives her very first and very last Guitar lesson; her teacher simply states: “Girls can’t play rock and roll”.