By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
The Runaways is the best musical biopic of the recent spate of drug abuse Oscar bait vehicles. Where Ray and Walk the Line like to revel in the actor-y scenes of darkness, The Runaways actually captures the energy of the music and uses the dark incidents sparingly to actually make a point.
Review: The Runaways
Opening on Cherie Currie’s period should tell you that the movie is in your face and doesn’t care. The colors, the hair styles, the lighting and editing all convey rock rebellion. Even the standard shot of running to music has such inherent energy that you can’t resist it.
Joan Jett deals with a sexist music teacher, and it’s hard to imagine there was still sexism in art in the post-feminist ‘70s, but she rebels and she’s right. The Curries have selfish parents. These are only brief mentions because it’s not the rebellion that makes the band succeed. It’s just plain being good.
This is so not my world. I feel square just watching it. These rock n’ roll d-bags really did need a feminine influence, although even when the girls make it, I’m not comfortable with the way they act out. It’s scatological, filthy and dangerous. It works in a film because there are real insecurities underneath so it’s not preening about tragedy.
There are real obstacles to making it in the ‘70s music circuit. I don’t mean getting discovered, I mean just surviving. They have to learn how to dodge debris thrown at them on stage. That’s important, you know, so you don’t die.
They do explain how the business works. It’s all dropped on the run so you’re not bogged down with lessons. It’s also a clear trajectory so that when the inevitable tensions arise, it makes sense. It’s not just the “dark period.” They were clearly going to implode under their manager’s style. You can start out by getting in your face and abusive you to “motivate” them, but can’t control all the forces involved forever.
Drugs still ruin everything, but it’s a real transition. You totally see what Cherie becomes, and it actually impacts her band mates. It’s not just “Here’s your chance to act it up.” The battle between PR and music is a legitimate issue and is the focus of the film’s perspective. The stage performances are bravura enough anyway, they have the confidence to let other scenes play naturally .
The ‘70s teen sexuality is enticing, regrettably. I suppose that’s also the point, that it worked and if you enjoyed it back then, here’s what she really sacrificed to bring you that thrill. Moments like teaching a bandmate how to masturbate are honest and not exploitative. By the way, just for people waiting for it, there is an artistic underwater nude shot of Kristen Stewart.
The Runaways is a vehicle for intense performances, but it’s really good. Those performances serve not only the real life characters in the story, but serve a narrative that actually has something positive to say about music.