Monday, May 16, 2011

The Runaways Movie Review: Newfound respect for Kristen Stewart and rekindling an old love of Joan Jett.

As a huge fan of Joan Jett since my angsty preteen years, and my previous encounters with Kristen Stewart's 'acting' (namely: In the land of Women and that Twilight series- I was highly sceptical of this movie. In my opinion, she basically knew how to play one character. But believe it or not, five minutes into The Runaways and I had completely forgotten Bella Swann ever existed. I could tell you all about the movie plot and what happened and who said what, yadda yadda, but you can go to Wikipedia for that. Or Fused Film has a great review here, which has a good outline of what I want to talk about, and so to avoid repeating what was said (and because it's been done so well)  here is the gist of it:

"However, as most of the posters and press suggest, the stars of the movie are Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.  Fanning’s portrayal of Cherie is amazingly genuine, showing us the scared fifteen-year old who is trying her best to be a grown-up and is experimenting with several things for the first time: drugs, alcohol, lesbian relationships, and the ups and downs of the rock-and-roll lifestyle.  Fanning has made very smart choices regarding her career, and this film is no exception.  Her slow evolution from kiddie actress to a competent leading lady seems to culminate with this film.  Once you get over the initial shock of seeing the little girl from Man on Fire popping pills and strutting around in lingerie, you realize that Fanning was a perfect choice for the role.  Kristen Stewart must be equally praised for becoming Joan Jett.  She is a genuine tough girl who also really cares about Cherie and is determined to pursue her rock star dreams.  Those who have only seen Stewart in the mindless Twilight films will be pleasantly surprised.  Stewart is capable of much more than that annoying Bella character."

The main things I want to hi-light are:
* The accuracy of this biopic 
* The astounding portrayal of the characters     and
* Some major similarities in the musical performances of the actresses and their counterparts. 

After watching the movie commentary, (which includes Joan Jett herself, Kristen and Dakota) you can't help but be impressed with the film making. Anything that was glossed over in the movie was simply due to time restraints and was just interpreted into a shorter version of the event. For example, Joan's meeting of Kim Fowler happened over a series of events, not just one night - and her guitar lesson wasn't quite so dramatic in real life. Also, Cherie's departure of the band was not quite as sudden as was portrayed. But these  events were more than made up for with all the other accurate events and additions to the story. Joan was on the set with Kristen every day of the shooting, and the result  can be seen in her amazing portrayal of Joan's character and little idiosyncrasies. I think if Cherie Curie had done the same for Dakota, it would have been even more amazing. Dakota did a fantastic job, but from someone with such an extensive acting background and experience - I expected much more. It wasn't even her first movie where she doesn't play a child (although, it is debatable whether Twilight can in fact be called a 'movie'). That aside, her best portrayal of the blonde bombshell is undoubtedly on the stage. It's uncanny how similar she is to Cherie in the way she sang and moved on stage. 
Here is the live footage of "Cherry Bomb" from the Japan concert of '77.... and the corresponding scene from the 2010 movie. Watch Cherie's/ Dakota's walk onto the stage - UNCANNY (there is a better version where you can see Curie's face better, but can't seem to find it).


As for Kristen, taking into account the phenomenal makeup and wardrobe job, her performance was flawless - especially considering that much of the script called for improvisation on her part. Many people found her "gum-chewing-wannabe-badass" persona annoying and classified it as bad acting, but in truth it is very much a representation of Joan herself. Watch any interviews or live performances and you'll see. But I found that the most commendable thing she does is recreate Joan's guitar playing method perfectly, while emitting a vibe of "hardcore, yet slightly reserved and not seeking the limelight". Which is completely true of Jett's personality at that time. 

            Kristen Stewart                                                                                                           Joan Jett 


                            Dakota Fanning                                                                                                                               Cherie Currie
In addition to the acting, the musical performance from the rest of the cast was once again, flawless. If you listen to the movie soundtrack and compare it to The Runaway's album songs, you'll see what I mean. Getting actors that can play, sing and act is always a tough job when making a musical biopic - and in this case it was 10/10. Of course you can hear the differences in voice and pronunciation, but what fun would it be listening to an exact copy? Another movie of this genre that does it this well is Cadillac Records  (another favourite of mine - definitely recommended for the music) which tells the story of Chess Records featuring Beyonce as Etta James, Mos Def as Chuck Berry and Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters. The only difference is that for this movie, historical accuracy came second to making a hit blockbuster. The love affair between Etta James and Leonard Chess was cute, but it was a distraction from the music, not to mention inaccurate.

Now, I realise there was a huge chunk missing in the plot, in particular: ALL the other band members. The fact that the emphasis is on Jett and Currie is ironic to say the least, because the whole point of an "all girl rock band" (and partly the reason for Currie leaving)  is that there was not meant to be a front man, or woman in this case.  The rest of the band are fairly one dimensional characters who have little or no spotlight.  (Lita Ford, Sandy West, and given that Jackie Fox didn't give license to use her name they had to make up a bassist, Alia Shawkat. ) Other than this variation in the story, the rest is pretty accurate. Especially the scene where Jett and Currie talk for the first time since the breakup, over the radio. Joan confirmed this to be true in the commentary. 

I found that this movie does immense justice to one the the first 'all girl rock bands' ever made, despite their short lived career and rise to fame. It gives them a well deserved spotlight that they never really had in their home country, and defines them as a major influence for female musicians everywhere. But the most important thing is that it brings today's youth back to the origins of music, and rekindles an awareness of great musicians that may otherwise be forgotten.