‘The Runaways,’ women rockers in a man’s world

Donna P. Crilly

Floria Sigimondi’s “The Runaways,” a regaling of teenage rebellion in the form of an all-girl 1970s rock band is a lesson in women’s libido.

With legendary rock producer Kim Fowley at the helm and Joan Jett as band leader, the biopic showcases the formation of the concept group.

The film follows Joan Jett, The Runaways’ rhythm guitarist, and Cherrie Currie, the original lead singer, as they spiral into the male-dominated world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Currie’s and Jett’s lives run parallel throughout the story until a critical moment in which fate seems to intersect them, causing one girl’s rise and the other girl’s demise.

Molded by the eccentric Fowley, the girls hold their own during an American tour and take their rock journey to Japan where Currie is catapulted overnight to stardom.

The fast-paced, hard-living drug life soon proves overwhelming for Currie and she breaks away from the group before they ever make it big in the States. All this before she turns 16.

Jett continues with The Runaways for five more years before forming Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, where she self-releases a string of hits in the 1980s, including “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.”

Kristen Stewart, best known for her role as a brooding teen in “The Twilight Saga,” plays Jett as an adolescent brown-eyed bitch with dreams of rocking out like “The Wild One” Suzi Quatro. She even fashions herself a throwback men’s greaser look to embody the part.

Stewart proves that she can hold her own playing the young, sexually curious Jett. Stewart’s portrayal is the thread that holds the film together and she handles the role with a cool grace. Jett’s rejection of women being relegated to sweet little acoustic ditties and her hunger for an electric dinner are what drives the audience to root for her; and Stewart makes them believe.

Dakota Fanning plays Currie and portrays the jailbaitress well. Fanning can get a little melodramatic at times, but it acts as a balance for the two lead personalities. Without one or the other, the movie suffers. After watching this film, the audience will never think of Fanning as a cute little kid again.

Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) plays Fowley and doesn’t go easy on the girls, bringing in guys to heckle them as they play. Shannon’s character acting is a real slice of overly-confident Fowley. He shows them how to dangle their swagger in front of the boys and then take it away just as soon as the guys think they can grab it.

Often sporting odd combinations of men’s and women’s fashion, Fowley masterminded the image of the group.

While the movie is an empowerment of women’s right to rock, Sigismondi also highlights sexploitation. The idea that since most of the girls were underage with a blonde lead singer strutting about the stage in her underwear showcased that they were nothing more than a failed formula for success.

In a scene where Fowley and Jett are scouting an underage club for a lead singer, Fowley encounters Currie and recruits her solely for her look. After discovering that she is only 15 years old, Fowley exclaims, “Yes! Jail-F-in-Bait! Jack-F-in-Pot!”

The musical biography’s linear storytelling is not going to line up the masses at the movie theaters , but will guarantee a cult-following garnered by Joan Jett.