“Hello world, I’m your wild girl…I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!!”
Does it get any more feminist than an all-female rock band? The Runaways were the first of their kind — a teenaged, all-female, badass band playing in a man’s world. They were consummate “rotten little girls” — they dished out as much shit as they received and for a brief, riotous moment ruled the rock scene like no other band before them.
With the recent film (also named “The Runaways”) starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, the band has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Google hits for Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have increased significantly and the Runaways have reached a youthful, modern audience.
This is good thing.
In an industry overflowing with successful male bands, it is important to talk about & celebrate the all-female band that paved the way for bands such as The Go-Go’s and L7, and fuck it, any little girl who picks up an electric guitar.
The film itself, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. The cinematography is lovely & at times reaches the level of fine art. The acting, at least on Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon’s part, ranges from believable to brilliant. However, the plot & character development leaves something to be desired.
The Runaways is (mild spoiler alert) your typical, cliche band biopic. Fledgling band faces many obstacles. Lead guitarist stumbles upon famous band manager, inexplicably gaining their attention and respect in the process. Questionably talented singer is recruited to the band based on sex appeal. Band gets signed. Lead singer becomes a diva & acquires a nasty drug habit. Band members get mad at each other. Lead singer leaves band. Band breaks up. The end.
It should be noted that this movie is based off of lead singer Cherie Currie’s ghost-written memoir “Neon Angel.” Therefore, Cherie Currie is the focus of the film. So, while Joan Jett might be the most famous character of the Runaways, audiences might be disappointed to find out that she is, at best, a secondary character. While I believe that Stewart plays a mean Joan Jett, she is reduced to two emotions: youthful, anti-authority rage and tender understanding (generally directed towards Cherie, played by Dakota Fanning).
Dakota Fanning, who is admittedly in the midst of awkward adolescence, fails to give Currie the spark & charisma she truly possessed. Viewers are left wondering why Currie was accepted to the band in the first place. It is not entirely Fanning’s fault — the script is weak, and we are thrown random tidbits of pop psychology as reasoning for Fanning’s drug problems: alcoholic dad, jealous twin sister, neglectful mother. However, the movie fails to explore who Currie truly was, how she really felt about her family and her band-mates, and how exactly she got mixed up in all of this.
The feminist message is relatively strong through-out the movie — but there are several factors that weaken the overall “girl’s rock!” sentiment.
First, the band is managed by domineering, sadistic, and eccentric Kim Fowley (who is male). While his methodology was questionable, it produced results. That being said, there is something contradictory about an all-female band relying on a white male to make something of themselves. And, according to this movie, if not for Fowley, the Runaways would not have enjoyed even the slightest bit of success.
Second, there is the fact that Cherie Currie was hand-picked as lead singer based on her Bardot-meets-Bowie good looks. Feathered blonde hair, lingerie on stage, jail-bait sex appeal (she was 15 when she joined the band) — let’s face it, Currie epitomized the concept of “sex sells.” Unfortunately, this begs the question: can a girl band succeed without a “sexy girl”? Granted, if you look at pictures of the band, you’ll see that Joan Jett, despite her tough girl attitude and appearance, oozed sex appeal like no other. So, while this is an element of the film that I did not find very pro-feminist, I have to admit that Cherie’s blonde tresses could not have been the band’s only appeal.
Finally, there is the focus on the alleged lesbian affair between Jett and Currie. Although Currie has admitted that she only vaguely mentions hooking up with Jett in a brief paragraph in her book, Hollywood took that sentiment and ran with it. In a movie that doesn’t have much substance besides wardrobe and good motherfucking music, the lesbian scenes take up significant chunks of time. There is sexual tension throughout the film between Jett and Currie, and then there’s the actual kissing scene…and the morning after scene…and the ensuing drama that implies a deeper, romantic relationship between the two.
This would all be fine if it were a) true, b) based on fact or substantial information from Currie’s book c) not so obviously added for the titillation of straight, male audiences. Hollywood is at it again — forcing false lesbianism between two pretty, white females down audiences throats for the purpose of making a movie starring strong women palatable to a mainstream audience. Because, you know, the awesome story of Joan Jett and the Runaways and Cherie Currie wasn’t enough on its own.
And, perhaps most telling, is the fact that the three other band mates are routinely ignored as playing any major role in the band’s development or success (Lita Ford being the most obvious omission). The drummer, Sandy West, enjoys some mention as Jett’s lovable, pot-smoking sidekick but Lita Ford and Jackie Fox’s characters have literally three lines of speech — I’m being generous with that estimate.
If this were really about the band, and the music, and the awe-inspiring success of the first all-female teenaged rock band, wouldn’t all the members of the band be the stars? Wouldn’t the story focus on the band’s obstacles and successes rather than the lesbian “affair” between Jett and Currie? It is this glaring omission that leads me to think that this is just another pre-packaged Hollywood confection.
The story is one that needed to be told. The characters are rich. The history is true. The music is terrific. And yet, I’m disappointed. We need more films about the Runaways, about all-girl bands, about feminism and being an individual in a world that pressures us to conform — and, as much as I wanted to love it, “The Runaways” is not that film. It’s a step in the right direction, but it does not do the Runaways — or rotten little girls — justice.
Here are some great clips from the movie & from live performances by the real Runaways. Enjoy!
“Publicize the music — not your crotch!!”
“I like your style. A little Bowie, a little Bardot, and a look on your face that says I could kick the shit out of a truck driver.”
Please weigh in — did you like the movie? Hate it? Let us know!