Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story
. The Runaways, although derided by the music industry at the time for being "too punk" for radio and not raw enough (read: male) for punk fans, are now seen as pioneers in the genre despite their short-lived career in the mid-late 70s.
Channeling Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart turns in a moving and powerful performance that will leave viewers stunned. Dakota Fanning is so frighteningly brilliant as Currie that she brought Cherie to tears in the Q&A following the Sundance screening. But perhaps the biggest surprise here is Michael Shannon's star turn as producer/manager Kim Fowley, who "created" the all-girl teenage band after being approached by wannabe-rock star Jett outside the doors of a club. The film masterfully recreates the rock & roll excesses that marked many bands of that era (and still do today) and pulls no punches in its depiction of the downward spiral that is almost inevitable in the crucible of youth, fame, and fortune.
has the look and feel of a Hollywood blockbuster, especially in the all-important performance scenes. Kudos to Sigismondi's sound and lighting design teams for effectively reproducing the powerful ambience of rock concerts and clubs, no small feat in a film where fans will scrutinize every guitar chord. High production values stand out the most here, as little matters more in this genre than the reproduction quality of the soundtrack. It should be the number one priority and every effort is made here to be faithful to the original songs, with Stewart herself reproducing Jett's vocals with astonishing authenticity.
With Sigismondi's background primarily in photography, it's no surprise that visuals are dazzling at times, which is where many rock & roll biopics traditionally fall short. Those who appreciate the technical side of filmmaking as much as story and acting will no doubt smile in appreciation at the way the director uses a dreamy interplay of color and light to enhance the emotional impact of the film's steamy love scenes. There's one jaw-dropping "white light of heaven" moment which had me nodding my head in approval.
Cinematographer Benoit Debie and editor Richard Chew make it apparent that this is no Behind the Music
. More and more handheld is used with rapid-fire cuts as the film progresses to match the characters' increasingly frenetic lives of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Credit should be given to Chew for seamlessly blending the live performances into the storyline -- this isn't just a series of music videos strung together with a loose narrative. Viewers should take notice of the respect with which Sigismondi and Jett, as executive producer, give the classic songs.
With Jett and her longtime partner/manager Kenny Laguna as executive producers, it's clear from the start that whatever rifts may have pulled the band apart in the late 70s weren't enough to derail this ultimate collaboration, albeit 30 years later. The Runaways
is an explosive and impressive debut for first-time feature director Flora Sigismondi. Those who were there will bask in the glow of those memories, while audiences discovering The Runaways for the first time may walk away with a new appreciation for the band that some considered "the female Beatles." The music will be playing in your head long after leaving the theater.
NOTE: I rated the film a 5/5 and selected it as one of my Top 5 Picks from this year's festival (see MY PICTURES) of the Q&A.
Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, this rock & roll biopic about Joan Jett's legendary first group is loosely based on bandmate Cherie Currie's book