Focusing on rock goddesses, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) 'The Runaways' chronicles the rise and fall of the band that made history as an all girl rock band. The rise to stardom, as it does with so many performers, takes a heavy toll on the girls. Drugs, booze, and sex all become commonplace for girls who are barely old enough to drive. Yet, 'The Runaways' shines through with some solid performances and a story of pubescent, angst-ridden girls run amok.
I first saw 'The Runaways' when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. The director, Floria Sigismondi, was in attendance and got up at the end to answer a few questions. She commented that the most interesting part of shooting the movie was the fact that Dakota Fanning was the exact same age, at filming time, that Cherie Currie was when 'The Runaways' hit it big. This is both disturbing and fascinating. Fanning seems to be taking on darker, more adult roles before she's actually considered an adult. She writhes around on stage wearing nothing more than a corset and panties, and you can't help but think to yourself, no wonder 'The Runaways' were big.
As the girls rose to fame, much of the attention was paid to Currie as the sexpot, Bridget Bardot lookalike, which caused rifts in the band. Jett, always about the music got angry and resentful that more attention was being paid to the sexy aspects of what they were doing and not to the music. Unfortunately, I'm not up to date on every piece of rock 'n roll history, so I'm going to have to take the movie at its word that this is indeed what finally broke them up. While 'The Runaways' follows the common storyline of a band's meteoric rise to stardom, their subsequent drug use, and fall from grace due to inflated egos, it's interesting to note how young these girls really were. All the drugs and booze that comes along with rock music buries its share of adult rockers, it's hard to imagine the gravity of the situation facing these girls.
It's true that this story only focuses on Jett and Currie, and doesn't really dive into the lives of the other members of the band. In the same Sundance screening we were informed by the director that they were unable to attain the rights to the stories of the other girls in the band.
On the filmmaking front, I feel Sigismondi takes the movie too far into the nether regions of weird camera angles and strange filters just to give it that "indie" feel, when more focus could have been turned to the inner struggles of the leads. When it comes to assembling the soundtrack however, she excels. This film is rockin' with a variety of thumping 70s rock music.
The performances here are great. Stewart – yes she's still playing a brooding teenager – shows some deep emotional range. She's not that softy love stricken girl she plays in the 'Twilight' movies. Her Joan Jett would rip Edward to pieces. She puts on a hard-nosed edge that hasn't been seen in her acting repertoire until now. Fanning plays a coked-out teenage rock star as well as any teenage girl could. It's hard watching her in some of the grittier scenes showing her constant drug use, but she makes it believable. And finally, Michael Shannon, as music producer Kim Fowley, gives one of the most underrated performances of the year. He's one of those guys that either doesn't think before he speaks or just says what everyone else is actually thinking. He's bouncing-off-the-walls insane, but his constant commentary on why people are going to like The Runaways is sad but true. Quoting Kim Fowley "Jail - f****** - bait. Jack - f****** -pot!"
True to the film's theatrical presentation, Sony's 1080p presentation of 'The Runaways' is as gritty as I remember it being when I saw it at Sundance. I recall Sigismondi saying that she wanted a grimier look for the movie because it reminded her of the 70s. In order to create the look she wanted the director filmed with 16 mm film. While the transfer lives up to what the director envisioned and what it looked like during its theatrical run, this is still a disc that wouldn't be great demo material.
Due to the gritty look of the film, blacks are less defined and fine detail is somewhat lost. Filmic grain is heavy throughout the movie, more so during darker scenes. The transfer does handle colors quite well. Reds pop and skin tones are natural looking (even though after Fanning begins her coke phase her skin is anything but normal looking).
Overall, this is a solid transfer of difficult material, but this certainly isn't a film that will blow you away with its picture quality.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is one you would expect to burst forth with into a sonic wonderland of rock, and while there are plenty of rock songs thumping around during the film, there are times during the band's practices where higher notes seem to screech. Whether this is the old-time equipment they're using, or an actual quirk with the soundtrack, I don't know. But there are definitely a couple scenes where higher notes are accompanied by a slight static noise. In contrast, during the concerts the vocals burst through, filling the room with a cacophony of lyrical rock.
Dialogue can be a problem. It's very soft, and in relation to the music, the mix seems all wrong when it comes to prioritization. Ambient noise is nicely done, with crowded concerts and band soundchecks echoing through the rear channels. LFE is a bright spot, as it keeps rumbling along with the music as the bass is strummed and the drums pound away. Barring the static noise that affects the soundtrack when the band is practicing, this soundtrack sounds pretty good. When they're on stage and the music takes over it's exactly what should be expected of a movie featuring so many well-known 70s rock songs, it's just in the softer, less rocking areas that things get a little tricky. Overall, this is still a solid audio presentation.
I liked 'The Runaways' when I first saw it at Sundance, and after a second viewing my opinion hasn't changed. It's a grim tale about the rise and fall of a teenage girl band that really was doomed from the beginning. This is one of the most rocking musical soundtracks for a recent film. Besides the few static moments heard during their practices, as well as a few areas of soft dialogue, the concert scenes sound great! The video, which adheres to the director's intent, but isn't something you'll throw in your Blu-ray player to show off what high-definition can do. The special features go for quality over quantity, and the commentary and making of are more than worthy of your attention. Overall, 'The Runaways' comes recommended.