The new film The Runaways, opening in theaters today, tells the tale of five trailblazing female rockers who started the first seminal all-girl rock band in Los Angeles in the mid-‘70s. Led by guitarist Joan Jett and fronted by vixen-singer Cherie Currie, The Runaways played DIY rock with the same spite and conviction as the boys, changing a woman’s role in rock and roll forever — and paving the way for bands like The Go-Gos, L7 and The Donnas.
Based on Cherie Curie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of A Runaway, the film focuses on Cherie’s journey from humdrum teenage boredom to international rock stardom, and the perils that she falls prey to along the way. Cherie, portrayed flawlessly by Dakota Fanning, embraces the glamour and excitement of her new world only to discover not everything is what it seems.
The band’s Svengali-manager Kim Fowley sees dollar signs in the “jail-bait” rock group and manipulates their image to his liking, sexing up frontgal Cherie through naughty lyrics and sleazy photo shoots, causing rifts in the band with jealousy and a classic bout of lead singer syndrome.
Twilight star Kristen Stewart shows her range as an actress by playing a near-perfect Joan Jett with her tomboyish good looks and cool swagger, though Joan’s more rebellious moments find Kristen a tad too timid to scream and shout with believable aggression.
The film invites you into the underbelly of rock n’ roll with all its debauchery and excesses and gives a highly accurate first-hand account of life on the road. At one point, teenagers Cherie and Joan take to a tiny airplane bathroom together to finish up the mounds of cocaine they’re carrying before the plane lands.
The misleading ending might leave younger viewers believing that Joan Jett went on pen the hits I Love Rock ‘n Roll and Crimson and Clover. Sadly, young rock disciples, those songs are both covers so don’t believe the hype, but do believe that Joan’s version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” surpassed the success of the original, and was what prompted Britney Spears to record her own version of the song in 2002. At 51 years old, Joan Jett most certainly does still rock.
A stellar rock history lesson with a cautionary drug tale to boot, The Runaways is certainly worth seeing, mainly for the fantastical fun and escapism of ‘70s glitter-rock.