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 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.
The Runaways 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.

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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.


Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

Comments (9)

  • Corale Reply

    Love your review Larry, Thakns and wish we could have it here in Europe.

    February 03, 2010 at 6:19 am
  • Jaqueline Reply

    Wonderful review, as usual Larry! I can't wait for The Runaways to premiere in Argentina!

    February 03, 2010 at 6:17 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks folks! We'll just have to wait and see.

    February 04, 2010 at 4:29 pm
  • jasmine dizon Reply

    Oh i love this movie,i know it will be one of the most awaited film of kristen...larry do you have any info if it is going to release in the Philippine or any asian country I'm more positive that it'll be shown in japan..

    February 08, 2010 at 6:09 am
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Hi jasmine, at the moment the only release dates are for the US and Argentina. They do have distribution deals for Taiwan and South Korea but those companies haven't announced release dates yet.

    February 08, 2010 at 1:34 pm
  • redsoc Reply

    I have no doubt that both Kristen and Dakota are going to explode off the screen in this one... what a year Stewie is having!

    Thoughtful, descriptive review. Being one who lived through it, am looking forward to all reminders and memories the film will no doubt evoke.

    As always, thanks for your thoughts Larry ~

    February 24, 2010 at 8:01 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thank you so much for the kind words, redsoc. I appreciate it very much.

    This film is definitely evocative of the time and music. I hope you enjoy it!

    February 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm
  • Trisha Reply

    I was lucky enough to see this at the 2010 SXSW premiere, and then again the next day in it's limited release. The movie is great, the acting is great, the visuals are stunning, and you forget that you aren't living in the 70's. I absolutely loved the movie, can't wait to see it again when it releases nationwide!

    Great review, as always Larry!

    March 21, 2010 at 11:36 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thank you so much Trisha, I really appreciate the kind words. I've only seen it once but am looking forward to a second viewing.

    March 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm

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