Hush, hurry, do it quick, make it bigger, be the coolest... and leave a beautiful corpse. That could be the slogan of many bands over the course of rock'n'roll's history, and would be an appropriate subtitle for "The Runaways", a movie telling the story of the 70s all-girl rock band of the same name.
The tale could have been disastrous, as the threat of being ruined by cliches is ever-present. Screenwriter and director Floria Sigismondi "paints" her movie in brush strokes, making the real story of The Runaways a burst, high on sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll out of control moments. But the film resists its ups and downs thanks to a constant vibe and energy, and the excellent performances from their main cast.
"The Runaways" is based on the book "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway", wrote by the band's lead singer Cherie Currie, fantastically played by a surprising Dakota Fanning, who gives her extremely difficult role, sexually charged, fragile and confused rockstar' Lolita, a stunning strength. Same praise has to go also for Kristen Stewart as guitarist and future rock icon Joan Jett, more constrained, but also posed by a inner fire that drives her throughout the whole film. Their solid work is the main foundation of the film, fuelled by a third actor, Michael Shannon as the eccentric, overbearing and abusive manager/band creator Kim Fowley. He offers the contrast and one of the most suggestive ideas/contradictions on the film: rock'n'roll as a manufactured product, revolt or sexually open lyrics that are designed to "sell" (the magazine issue), aggressive attitudes and looks on a female band that are tailored to detail. Does it sound familiar to you?
Unfortunately, the brush strokes among which "The Runaways" is built leaves the spectator with too many questions unanswered. In my opinion Sigismondi is more focused on giving her two young female stars a vehicle to shine. They do, and their relationship is quite absorbing and complex (I wish the end of the film had had a bit more substance, though). But we miss the evolution/contradictions of the band. The music part is consciously left (the rest of the band is barely testimonial, there's zero talk on influences or music direction except references to Bowie and the glam era on which the band was created). Jett's moving on and starting her own solo career is also skipped. Things get out of control, there's a final burst, and then it's over. That's enough to make you watch with interest, but also leaves you wondering what it could have been with a bit more of ambition and will to talk about music.