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The Runaways Movie Reviewed: I Wonder Where They Will Stay by Iman Lababedi

I was visiting New York in 1978 and  I caught the all girl rock band the Runaways at CBGB’s. This is after lead singer Cherie Curry had hit the road. I was a rarity, a big time Runaways fan who thought their bad reputation was killing em and they deserved better.

Three years later Joan Jett hit big with “I Love Rock N Roll” and as a guy who had written about JJ many times, I got the Joan Jett cover story for Creem. She was sweet, absolute gorgeous, and both her and manager Kenny Laguna kept on going off the rrecord so it was a bitch to write. I wrote about Lita Ford maybe a year later -she had just remade herself as a heavy metal Queen (of noise…).

So I have been  some what cynical about the movie version of “The Runways”. Firstly, the Dakota Fanning version of “Cherry Bomb”  I’d heard was predictably iffy. And though, after seeing Kristen Stewart in “Adventureland”,  I thought she might be able to  pull off Joan Jett, the fifteen year old Dakota sounded wobbly.
Also much the same way as the Joy Division movie “Control” could be boiled down to waiting for suicide, the Runaways seemed tailor made as waiting for jailbait. Neither movie is that simple.
“The Runaways” takes four trailer trash teen girls, adds Dr. Frankenstein, and lets them loose in 70s Hollywood. The rise is a blast of drunkeness, girl bonding and Michael Shannon in a loose, eccentric and very exciting performance as the Runaways Svengeli cum Manager Kim Fowley.
The second half of the movie is the usual decline into drugs and break ups and not as much fun. People have complained that since the Runaways were never popular or good so there was not much to decline from. They were huge in Japan and quite a few other countries. They absolutely lost something.
But watching somebody lose out to drugs and sadness is not much fun.
Kristen Stewart -the chick from the Twighlight series, is growing into a fine actress. This is the second time I’ve been impressed by her. She works from her bangs and leather coat out and she goes into the emotional depths of a woman giving her life to rock and roll. “That guitar, Iman. It’s my life” Joan Jett once said to me. There is a scene with Kristen sleeping in the bathroom clutchng her guitar that is almost exactly the way you might imagine it. It has the riff of truth.
Fifteen years old when filming her role, Dakota Fanning is a complete revelation to me. I’ve seen Dakota in several movies and she has never made the slightest impression on me but she has now. I have no idea how she can portray a  teenage girl being sexually exploited by everything around, dancing in her underwear, making out with her tour manager and Kristen, and maintain her dignity and her humanity. There is a pained realness to her. She is a great actress.
Dakota is so good that, readers may remember, I laughed at the concept of her having a singing career after hearing her “Cherry Bomb” but after watching her sing it… well, maybe she does.
“The Runaways” isn’t a great movie. The second half drags too hard for greatness. But a good movie which respects the runaways, its two young stars and its audience.

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