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The Runaways

If you've ever seen a biopic about a musician, you know what to expect from The Runaways. Chronicling the rise and fall of the titular band, the film, like so many others, is a conventional biopic, down to the letter, but it's done well and the central performance from a rapidly growing Dakota Fanning keeps it fresh.

Many know of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the punk rock band responsible for classics like "Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock 'N Roll," but few know of Jett's first band that shot her to stardom, The Runaways. Popular overseas, but lacking in appeal here in the states, her band fell into the pitfalls many rock bands do: sex, drugs and rock 'n roll (not necessarily in that order). Kristen Stewart plays Jett who dreams of forming an all girl rock band. One day she meets record producer Kim Fowley, played by Michael Shannon, who loves the idea and helps her. For her, it's all about the music, but to him, it's the sex appeal. He claims that men don't want to see women playing guitar. They want to see them work their assets, so on his quest to find a good frontman (woman?), he stumbles upon Cherie Currie, played by Fanning. After playing a few low key shows, they land a record deal, but their excessive personalities soon lead to their downfall.

I'm a huge fan of Joan Jett. I love her music. I love her look. I love her don't-give-a-crap attitude. I've even seen her in concert. She may be over 50, but she can still rock a nightclub out of its senses. I walked into The Runaways expecting to learn more about her, including her career with the Blackhearts, but much to my surprise, the film is centered largely around Cherie. If I had done my research prior to my viewing, I would have known it is based off of Cherie's memoirs titled "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway," so it instead explores her life and while it may not necessarily be the Joan Jett biopic I was hoping for, Cherie's life intertwines with hers and the accompanying story is interesting, if not familiar.

But familiarity is not the movie's problem. It may be derivative of other musician biopics, but that's simply the life these people lead. What really prevents it from reaching the status of recent biopics like Ray or Walk the Line is its over-the-top feeling. At times, the whole movie feels a little excessive, but nothing matches Shannon's terrible performance as the eccentric record producer. His exaggerated personification of this man brings the film to a hault. Every scene he is in, every line of dialogue he utters, every movement of his body reeks of bad acting. While I suppose we are to assume he is hopped up on drugs in every scene, the film never shows him taking any and regardless of whether or not the actual person acted this way, dramatically the character doesn't work and needed to be toned down.

The other performances, however, are fantastic, including Kristen Stewart, who gets a lot of flack for looking like she doesn't care in those silly Twilight films. She still looks like that here, but the difference is she's not supposed to care. She's rebellious. A rock 'n roll punk. Anti-establishment. Stewart's poor acting abilities actually benefited her in this role and she ably supported Fanning's wonderful grown-up performance, which was the crutch of the movie.

If I had to sum up The Runaways in one sentence, I would call it this: an understandably cognate, somewhat over-the-top biopic with a great soundtrack and mostly good peformances. It's little more than that. As far as these films go, I've seen better, but it's a solid movie that finally gives punk rock its dues. And as far as this head banger is concerned, that's a good thing.

The Runaways receives 3.5/5

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