In 1975 a band called The Runaways aimed to revolutionise rock music. They were one of the first and most successful all-female rock bands of their time. After they split, their lead songwriter, Joan Jett, went on to have a very successful career in her own right, with hits such as I Love Rock and Roll and Crimson and Clover.
The biopic concentrates on the three people at the heart of the band, the lead singer Cherie Currie; Joan Jett; and their manager Kim Fowley. It does an excellent job of balancing the empowerment the girls felt they got from being rock stars and the exploitation by their manager, who knew only too well how appealing these teenage girls would be to a male audience.
In many ways it’s a fairly typical music biopic. Band becomes famous, band takes drugs, band goes on downward spiral, band tries to recover. I suppose what’s unique about this story is that the band at the centre of it are all teenage girls.
A masterstroke by the creators of this movie was to cast Dakota Fanning as the lead singer, Cherrie Currie. Since we’re used to seeing the actress as a child, it’s deeply unsettling to see her being exploited by her manager, and very easy to buy into the way she reaches adolescence and experiments with her sexual identity.
Equally brilliant is the performance by Kristin Stewart, who is anything but the bland Bella fans of Twilight are used to seeing her portray. Stewart’s Joan Jett is determined, creative, sensitive as well as a little naive. Stephenie Meyer take note: this is how to write an empowered female character.
Although The Runaways perhaps doesn’t have the depth of insight I would have liked to see it’s still strikes me as being a pretty important movie. In an era where female characters are all too often defined by their male counterparts, this film about a band of five teenage girls brilliantly portrays the joys and horrors of adolescence. Why aren’t there more films like this?