Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Johnny Lewis, Tatum O'Neal, Brett Cullen, Hannah Marks, Brendan Sexton III, Robert Romanus
Written by: Floria Sigismondi, based on a book by Cherie Currie
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use and sexual content - all involving teens
Running Time: 109
Date: 01/24/2010

The Runaways (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cherry Bombs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This rock 'n' roll biopic about Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and their early all-girl band is filled with the usual rock 'n' roll clich├ęs, but in this case they seem appropriate because they're probably all true. The film makes great claims for The Runaways as a landmark group in the history of a male dominated genre, but it's also wise enough to realize that the selling of hot teenage girls isn't necessarily pure exploitation; from the looks of things, just about everybody got pretty much what they wanted out of the deal, at least for a little while.

Kristen Stewart makes a dead-on Joan, and her slightly tentative performance fits the mold of a teenager still looking for her place in the world. This Joan wants to be a rock star more than a musician, and things like guitar lessons are just necessary bumps in the road. She meets producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) at a club and manages to get him interested in the idea of a sexy, teenage, all-girl, hard rock band. Other girls are assembled, including Sandy West (Stella Maeve), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and the fictitious "Robin" (Alia Shawkat), and then, finally, the group needs a "face" to be up front and help sell things. And so Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) is selected, plucked from her home, her flighty, dramatic mom, her drunk dad and her loving sister Marie (Riley Keough).

What follows is the usual: road trips, crappy shows, crappy hotels, drugs, sex, then bigger shows and bigger hotels, and finally, the fights. The film nicely illustrates Joan as "interested in girls" without driving her sexuality into the ground as an issue. It's filled with great music, including cuts from the Stooges and the Sex Pistols, and the scenes of the limelight and the rock shows have an undeniable energy. But the film flags when it tries to build up the drama around Cherie's home life, and historic shortcuts -- like Fowley writing "Cherry Bomb" in the space of about 30 seconds -- can be annoying. But Shannon is at the top of his game, and the film's "girl power" energy is very satisfying.

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