“Come on, you filthy pussies, let’s rock and roll.”
That trash talk is aimed at Kristen Stewart, 19, and Dakota Fanning, 16, stars of Twilight: New Moon, by Michael Shannon, in fierce, flamboyant form as evil-genius manager Kim Fowley. Kim is cursing the girls as members of the Runaways, a pioneering band of five jailbait rockers from broken homes that he wants to turn into the female Beatles.
Stewart gives as good as she gets. She’s playing Joan Jett, 15, the shag-haired guitarist, singer and songwriter who co-founded the Runaways in 1975 and went on – after the L.A. band dissolved in 1979 – to achieve star status as a solo act. Fanning has it tougher as Cherie Currie, 15, a blond Valley girl molded by Kim into the band’s lead singer and jerk-off fantasy. Cherie is so naive she almost breaks down. In a killer scene early in the film, written and directed by — music-video whiz Floria Sigismondi, Kim preps the girls for life in a man’s game. Rehearsing in a crummy trailer, the girls are hit by bottles, cans, dirt and dog shit tossed by Kim and his toadies. Cherie is told to sell the sexual heat in a song Kim and Joan create for her: “Hello, Daddy, hello, Mom, I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.”
The “Cherry Bomb” scene is a raunchy blast of rock history. And Fanning and Stewart, who do their own singing, seize the moment. As Kim tells Cherie the dirty secrets of rock, “Fuck you, fuck authority, I want an orgasm!” she shows him what a wild child can be.
Fanning scores a knockout. And Shannon, as the “Frankenstein motherfucker,” is a fireball of potent perversity. Sadly, The Runaways fades into dull predictability. Joan must wait for Cherie to screw up on drugs and sex (the make-out session between Stewart and Fanning is delicate to a fault) so she can step in and front the band. Stewart is just getting rolling when the movie ends. But face it, The Runaways is based on Neon Angel, Currie’s 1989 memoir. She’s the only one who gets a backstory.
The result is a walk on the wimp side. Guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) barely register in their own band. And Alia Shawkat shows up as an amalgam of Runaways bassists. Jett served as a producer, but the script never shows what drives her. What’s left are colorful scenes of life on the road, especially in Japan, where the girls hit it big with a live album. But there’s no sense of rock anarchy. Say what you will about the Runaways — they never played it safe. The movie does.