Cherie (Dakota Fanning, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”) and Marie Currie (Riley Keough, in her first feature film) are a pair of vacuous teens in Los Angeles. Cherie is the more disaffected of the two, relieving the boredom of life by hanging out at rock clubs and lip-syncing David Bowie.
Record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”) sees her one night while on the prowl for a young woman with the right look for an all-girl, hard-rock band he’s putting together with the help of drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve, “Brooklyn’s Finest”) and singer/guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”).
When he finds out that Cherie is only 15 years old, he is delighted: “Jail-effin’-bait! Jack-effin’-pot!”
So the band forms, the girls learn to play and develop the right look — underage pouty/slutty — and they all come to enjoy the rock lifestyle. But the lifestyle — sex, drugs and booze — is too much for Cherie, who breaks down and leaves the act. The film suggests that this means the end of everything for all but Jett, who has a great career as a singer backed up by The Blackhearts. Truth is, The Runaways lasted for another three years after Currie left.
The three central performances — Fanning, Stewart and Shannon — are terrific, with Fanning and Shannon taking top honors. Fanning was only 15 when she shot this one, but she’s easily in control of the material. If she doesn’t go all Lindsay Lohan on us, her reign will be a long one. Her age makes it interesting to note that while 13-year-old Chloe Moretz is garnering so much negative attention for her gutter vocabulary in “Kick-Ass,” no one seems to mind the same words coming from 15-year old Fanning. Kids, now you know at what age you can start talking like a mule skinner in public: 15.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the story for many people will be the calculated way in which “sound” and “look” were shaped. Like much of early punk style, at least in England, what Cherie wears is not an outgrowth of who she is, but a deliberate attempt to manipulate her audience. Even the band’s most popular song, “Cherry Bomb,” was created on the spot for a specific purpose.
“The Runaways” is not a good movie — the direction is occasionally nonexistent and the script is sloppy and too reliant on clichés — but Fanning and Shannon are real standouts, and the songs, if naive when experienced through the hearing aid of late middle age, are expressive of feelings most of us can remember.
“Hello, Daddy, hello, Mom / I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch …” —Doug Bentin