Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Short Take: The Runaways

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Floria Sigismondi, the writer and director of The Runaways, a docudrama about the trailblazing 1970s all-female rock band, falls into a common trap of the genre. She’s so committed to portraying her subjects as real people that she overlooks the qualities that gave them their renown. In trying to do justice, all she manages is to diminish them. The picture is further hampered by the script’s failure to locate any underlying dynamic to the characters and their relationships. Sigismondi focuses on guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). But she doesn’t make either woman the least bit vivid, and one can’t hook into their friendship. She isn’t helped by the bland performances from Stewart and Fanning, either. No one could envy Stewart the task of playing the charismatic Joan Jett, but there’s nothing to the portrayal beyond the hairstyle and make-up. Stewart doesn’t even try to capture Jett’s larger-than-life bravado. All she manages is to make Jett, of all people, seem sullen and dinky. Dakota Fanning is earnest, but her efforts at capturing Cherie Currie’s swagger seem like half-hearted playacting. She certainly doesn’t manage to reconcile Currie’s performing flamboyance with the insecurities (and substance-abuse problems) that plagued the singer off-stage. The only actor who comes through is Michael Shannon, who delivers a hilarious scenery-chewing turn as the band’s manager Kim Fowley. Sigismondi has occasionally inspired moments, most notably the slapstick “heckler drill” where Fowley teaches the band how to play while being pelted with garbage. She also does an excellent job of evoking the 1970s milieu. But she isn’t much of a storyteller. The drama doesn’t build, and one isn’t even sure of where it’s supposed to be.

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