Screen Shot: ‘The Runaways’

The RunawaysThe Runaways feels like an experiment. This dark, graphic account of two San Fernando Valley girls in 1975 who join an all-female punk rock band, based on a book by one of the band members, opens with blood dripping and closes on a curiously upbeat note while winking with Joan Jett’s hit cover tune of “Crimson and Clover”. What happens in between, in a generic tale of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, is neither original nor interesting. The five-girl band is urged by a maniacal recording industry type to “be like men” which suits most of the lost girls, who are all but abandoned by their parents, and what might have been a biting take on punk subculture is reduced to a punk version of the mediocre Dreamgirls. Kristen Stewart (Zathura) shines as lesbian rocker Joan Jett, in a sincere performance, while Dakota Fanning (Hounddog) as the blonde lead singer takes up screen time in a flat characterization that never takes root. The film is hazy in spots, reflecting the 1970s, the music is raw and crude, and the main characters are children neglected by lousy parents (look for Tatum O’Neal in a cameo). Left to fend for themselves, the girls play out the decade’s chaos and confusion. They manage to survive, but The Runaways, overloaded with Dakota Fanning and focused on style more than substance, doesn’t show us why.

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