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By Brian Lafferty

April 9, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- Watching The Runaways was like going to a fun party; you have the time of your life before you spend the next day recovering. The energy this movie generated resulted in a nonstop simultaneous feeling of euphoria and heartbreak. It is a rollercoaster of a movie, one that constantly engaged me on an emotional level. It is a film that will stay with me for a long time.

The movie stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Joan wants to be a rock star, and she has the right stuff, but there is one major problem: she’s a woman and rock music is a male-dominated field. “Girls don’t play electric guitars,” her music instructor says.

Not to be deterred, Joan and her band, The Runaways, catch the eye of an eccentric record producer. They find Cherie, a troubled teenager from a broken home, at a nightclub. After a rocky but successful audition, she joins the band. It isn’t long before the first all-girl rock band becomes an overnight sensation. It’s fun after a while; they tour the country and even as far as Japan. Romantic feelings slowly develop between Joan and Cherie.

Their fame and good fortune does not last, however. The old saying “all good things must come to an end” could not be any more applicable to this band.

Kristen Stewart may have top billing but the focus is mainly, and surprisingly, on Dakota Fanning’s character. She gives a heart wrenching performance as the troubled, naïve, and vulnerable Cherie Currie. I haven’t felt so sorry for a movie character in a long time. As a measure of the veracity of Fanning’s performance, these feelings of pain and heartbreak still linger even as I write this review and will stick with me every time I think of it.

This doesn’t mean Stewart gets short shrift. She also gives an honest portrayal of a teenager who, too, is troubled, yet determined to succeed. She faces constant skepticism from virtually every man except their producer and she resents it. In one scene, Joan is appalled that the hotel the band is staying in gave a male band a better suite. What does she do? She urinates on their guitar. I liked Stewart in Adventureland and here she gives one of, if not her most, mature performances to date.

The movie has a lot of style. The Runaways is peppered with period rock music of the time. The cinematography is gritty and coarse, just like the tough road the band has to navigate. It is a great film to look at. Yet, thanks to the well-written script and genuine acting, writer and director Floria Sigismondi – making her feature length debut - thankfully steers the movie clear of becoming a two-hour music video.

The Runaways is rated R and for good reason. We immediately get a good sense of the film’s visceral nature in the opening scene, where Cherie has her period in public. There are scenes of debauchery which I will not reveal. Any rating less than R would ruin the integrity of this picture. The filmmakers could have easily watered it down so it could get a PG-13 rating (thus making it available to more moviegoers) but I’m glad they didn’t go that route.

An Apparition release.  Director:  Floria Sigismondi.  Screenplay:  Floria Sigismondi, based on the book “Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story” by Cherie Currie.  Original Music:  Lillian Berlin.  Cinematography:  Benoit Debie.  Cast:  Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Michael Shannon.  Running Time:  106 minutes.  Rated R.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.


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