As the first all-girl proto-punk group, The Runaways may have been a unique idea, but the biopic of the same name suffers from a lack of them. A kind of hybrid between your standard rock 'n' roll fall from grace and a coming-of-age tale, The Runaways fits too comfortably into the standard tropes off both kinds of stories to feel anywhere near as lively as the music at one time did. And when you're dealing with a group of teenage rock stars who spiral downwards thanks to a combination of drugs and an insane impresario, it takes something to make it seem as boring as it does here.
The film's faults can probably best be summed up in a scene where Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) gets her first taste of the drugs that would eventually consume here. After she pops a few pills backstage, director/adapter Floria Sigismondi tilts the camera, and then sends us off on a blurry, looping tour of Currie's hazy state of mind. Drug trips maybe aren't the easiest thing to capture from the point of view of the user, but that's a trope tired enough that Mr. Show managed to puncture it pretty deftly, and that was 15 years ago, in a sketch based on '70s films. You could argue it's homage, perhaps—and, truthfully, the scuzzy '70s LA vibe is one of the things the film does right—but surrounded by the film's other by-the-numbers executions, it just feels unimaginative.
That said, part of the other problem here is that Currie is really the only Runaway we get a whole lot of perspective on. Granted, the film was based on her own memoir, and didn't even get permission to use the stories of two of the band's five members, but still, it is billed as the group's story. All we learn of Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), though, is that she loves rock 'n' roll, which I believe was covered in a song she sang a few years back. The rest of the band might as well be cassettes, for all the relevance they have to the proceedings.
The film's saving grace comes in the form of manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), the producer/dirt bag who svengalied the group into existence. Played with a refreshing recklessness by Shannon, Fowley has more personality than the entirety of the band combined. It is a little odd that the film seems largely mute on just how crafted this band was—it shows it happening, but doesn't seem to question what it means for a punk band to get tips on rocking out from their older, creepy manager—but that fades to the background through Shannon's sheer vitality. Watching him put the band through heckler practice—hurling invective and beer bottles at their faces while they rehearse—or encourage a bunch of teenage girls to start thinking with their dicks is the closest this film gets to capturing the experience of rock 'n' roll.
Written & directed by Floria Sigismondi
Based on a book by Cherie Currie
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon