A runaway success
Published 04/09/2010 | 05:00
It's not often that a mainstream Hollywood film can make you feel excited and inspired, but the new Runaways biopic of Joan Jett and original bandmate Cherie Currie does just that. Although I was interested to see The Runaways since I first came across the trailer a few months back, I didn't have high hopes for the film.
Firstly, it stars Kirsten Stewart, best known for playing the lame embodiment of repressed female passivity, Bella, in the Twilight movie series.
Secondly, Hollywood doesn't exactly have a great track record for making films that represent strong women in realistic situations.
Stewart plays a cool and brooding Joan Jett, all black eyeliner and louche leathers. She teaches her bandmates how to achieve orgasm, fills a toy gun with vodka and squirts it into her mouth from time to time and shares a love scene with her co-star Dakota Fanning, who plays Cherie Currie.
If there is a better way of putting some distance between yourself and a pathetic serial character like Bella, I've yet to see it. (Take note, Emma Watson.)
Perhaps the success of the film's representation of the young female experience is down to its director, Floria Sigismondi. The Runaways is the Italian woman's first feature film but her previous experience lies in making music videos for the likes of Marilyn Manson. She definitely lends an air of rock'n'roll cool to The Runaways.
But unlike other movies, this film focuses instead on female friendships, their intensity, the arguments young girls have and the support and comfort to be gained from belonging to a close-knit group of friends.
The Runaways were the first all-girl rock band the world had seen. Formed in 1975 by Joan Jett and manager Kim Fowley, they were signed to Mercury Records and were touring Japan within two years.
All the girls were under age when they started, and unsurprisingly the band fell apart under the pressures of touring.
Cherie Currie, the youngest member of the group, had drug problems and ended up taking an overdose and having a breakdown before leaving the band.
Joan Jett was one tough cookie and she kept things together, forming Joan Jett and the Runaways and, later, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. She's still going strong today.
What was most inspiring about this new film was seeing female characters like Jett on the big screen. Stewart's portrayal of Jett is strong and exciting, a young woman determined to succeed on her own terms.
The characters are fun and liberated but also have very real problems -- self-image, complex family situations, emotional difficulties and even drug addictions, which feels much closer to real-life experiences than a lot of representations of young women I've seen on the big screen.
There's power in the performances in this film, and in the friendships represented, a sort of us-against-the-world strength in numbers that was obviously present in the original band too. Just take a look at the real live footage of The Runaways' 1977 Japan tour on YouTube. Their Black Sabbath riffs and primeval wails are blood-curdlingly thrilling.
To see a group of girls doing things their way is empowering for all woman whatever their age and experience.
The Runaways might inspire a new wave of awful shag haircuts and bad make-up, but if it also leads a new generation of girls to pick up guitars and drumsticks, it will be worth it.
The Runaways opens nationwide on Friday.