When Joan Jett picked up an electric guitar and decided to start her own all-girl rock group in high school, the tough, leather-clad chick from the LA valley started what later became known in the 90s as the riot-grrrl movement.
If it wasn’t for groups like The Runaways tearing it up with their raucous, growling singing style and hard-rock, fast music, bands such as The Go-Gos, The Bangles, The Donnas, Bikini Kill, L7, Lunachicks and Hole may have never been formed.
The movie The Runaways is set in the mid 1970s with Joan Jett trying to find her own style and fight the mainstream idea of what a female musician should look and sound like.“Girls don’t play electric guitar,” said Jett’s high school guitar teacher, while showing her how to play a slow song on an acoustic guitar.
Kristen Stewart (of Twilight Saga movies fame) is dead-on as rhythm guitarist Jett. She is able to portray the quiet, yet crazy, Jett, and even does her own singing, which actually sounds good and makes the movie more authentic.
Jett knows she wants to start her own rock group, so she jumps on the chance to introduce herself to record producer Kim Fowley while at a rock club.
Fowley at first brushes Jett off as just another musician who wants to get her music heard, but when Jett tells him she plays electric guitar and wants to start an all-girl rock group, his ears perk up and he immediately sees the marketability of the idea.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Fowley is one of the highlights of the movie. Fowley is brash, tough and a David Bowie wannabe with his androgynous ways and makeuped face.
“This is not about women’s lib, this is about women’s libido,” he yells at the girls in his tough-love style. “This is the sound of hormones raging.”
Dakota Fanning (Coraline, War of the Worlds) is certainly interesting as the blonde bombshell lead singer Cherie Currie, chosen to be in the band simply because of her style. She has the look down, a cross between David Bowie and Brigitte Bardot, but it wasn’t believable to really see her as a drugged-out rocker who dabbles in relationships with girls, including Jett. She’s just not that tough, and her singing was weak during the classic, “Ch ch ch ch ch ch, cherry bomb.”
As did Stewart, Fanning did her own singing, which wasn’t as strong as Jett’s growls but again more interesting than just lip synching.
Cherie is sort of the Gwen Stefani of the group, posing for her own photos without the other girls and becoming more popular than her band mates. It’s apparent from the beginning she never quite fits in. In her first audition with the group, she wants to sing Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” and one of the girl’s growls, “We don’t play slow songs.”
Although The Runaways didn’t become as big as The Beatles, like Fowley had predicted, Jett is still a successful, touring singer with her band The Blackhearts. (I saw her in concert last year at the Dodge Theatre. She is still as tough as ever, looks fantastic and still rocks.)
Cherie Currie is now a chainsaw artist in California, and the movie was based on her book, “”Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story.”
The movie’s fashion is awesome and reminds me of how much that 1970s style is coming back, with the one-shoulder dresses, glittery, high heeled shoes and ragged, feathered haircuts.
The movie is an interesting take on the music scene at the time, and shows the startling drug, alcohol and sex binges of these young girls.
The ending is a little anti-climactic, and I’m not sure why the other girls’ backgrounds weren’t talked about at all (lead guitarist Lita Ford did make a name for herself), but you can’t beat the music, the fashion and Stewart and Fowley’s great interpretations of some iconic musical personalities.
Rating: R for language, drug use and sexual content
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Riley Keough, Scott Taylor-Compton
Running time: 105 minutes
Hayley Ringle is a general assignment reporter for the East Valley Tribune.