Hairstyle-first plummet into an abyss of excess and drug-fuelled hedonism? Check. OTT band manager/sex pest? Check. Former musical soulmate wailing “It used to be about the music!?” Check. The Runaways has the rock & roll movie playbook and it’s running it page by page. As the fuzzy, amber-tinged ’70s give way to the gaunt, jagged ’80s, we are whisked along the brief career trajectory of the ‘manufactured’ all-girl band that gave us Joan Jett and that song you might have heard that went “Ch-ch-ch-ch-cherrybomb!” But the aforementioned playbook was written for a reason: the rock & roll bio flick is one of the most easily digestible genres of all. From Ray to Walk The Line, from Great Balls Of Fire to Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story (you need to see this right NOW), it’s too much fun to watch those who are musically gifted but ever-so-slightly dumb explode onto the scene and then implode in on themselves through a series of colourfully-shot montages, convincingly-mimed musical numbers and record producers who only stand in front of walls of their own gold records.
As Jett, Kristin Stewart – who is clearly relishing the opportunity to sex it up in the interim between Bella Twilight’s yawnsome yarns – is every bit as sultry and spiky as real-life Joany, with her urinating on rival acts’ guitars, knocking over trashcans and having waterfights to emphasise just how utterly rock & roll she and her gang really were. However, as Aladdin Sane enthused frontwoman Cherie Currie – whose book ‘Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway’ the film is based on – Dakota Fanning is simply too baby-faced and puppy-fat to convince. Gigantic aviator shades and copious amounts of blusher do not hide the creepy fact that it’s still kind of that little girl from War Of The Worlds, and despite all the stylistic efforts and mimicry, the chemistry between the two leads just isn’t there. Even a smokey, crimson-tinged make-out session fails, and that’s saying something. Obviously, as it’s based on her account, CC’s drug addiction takes to the stage as headline act in the final third, giving Stewart not much to do in support except make t-shirts and develop a more lesbian-looking hairstyle.
But then we have Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the coarse, intimidating, cross-dressing ‘creator’ of The Runaways in 1975 with his commanding and demanding vision sculpting the mismatched teens into the kind of product that, in one scene, the entire population of Japan wanted to devour. As a gangly and abrasive presence stealing not only entire scenes but also lines from anyone around him, he’s just the kind of clichéd archetype – whether accurate or not – that this kind of route-one bio needs and is perfectly pitched by Shannon as a fickle, unhinged but undeniable savvy buck chaser. His method of perfecting the band’s aggressive stage demeanor is particularly novel: throw crap at them while they’re trying to rehearse. That’ll learn ‘em.