class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-29809″ title=”The Runaways UK Poster” src=”×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />The appeal of The Runaways story is undeniable; four cute, jailbait girls with sass, playing ballsy pop rock at a time when there was no one else staking a claim to rockin’ bad girrrl turf.

Their turbulent career also compactly showcases all the now de rigeur (and turgid) rock bio-pic tropes; disaffected teenage entropy (check), substance abuse (check), good tunes (check), internal and external tensions (check), and a brief, Warholian 15 minutes in the spotlight before burn out (double check).

The main problem with director Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways is that it does little more than tick the rock flick boxes. Based as it is on Cherie Curie’s autobiography ‘Neon Angel,’ the focal point of the film is thus Cherie, and on Dakota Fanning’s portrayal of the troubled teenager. There is a scene early on in which Cherie wins a talent contest at her high school lip syncing to David Bowie, which serves as an unfortunate metaphor for Fanning’s performance; it feels like she is lip syncing her way through the film, never really inhabiting the character and breathing life into her beyond the aforementioned rock bio tropes. It’s a bit startling initially to see Fanning playing a decidedly more mature character than she has previously played, dressing provocatively and getting wasted, but after a time it becomes apparent that that is really all the performance is about: provocation as an announcement that she is no longer the big-eyed little girl cowering behind Tom Cruise or talking to a CGI spider.

Kristen Stewart is more engaging as Cherie’s band mate Joan Jett, and Stewart does more with a role that similarly revolves largely around striking rebellious and cool poses, with Jett  portrayed as the more hard boiled yin to Curie’s softer, more naïve yang. There is no doubt that Stewart has great chops, as she displayed in last year’s Adventureland, but the part of Jett as written doesn’t really require much of a stretch from her.

When I caught a glimpse of Michael Shannon in the film’s trailer, I was struck immediately by how much he actually resembles the saturnine Kim Fowley, the svengali who brought The Runaways together. As he did in a less showy part in Revolutionary Road, Shannon dominates every scene he is in; there is something in the reptilian cast of his eyes and mouth that demands one’s attention whenever he stares, rapt, at the girls while they are performing, or while he is flamboyantly berating or coaxing them towards the (decidedly suspect) vision that he has of what they should and could be.

One has to wonder if this film would have been made if the two leads were not played by the undeniably talented and high profile Stewart and Fanning (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as a composite character bass player, Scout-Taylor Compton as Lita Ford, and Stella Maeve as the late Sandy West get about three lines between them, being completely reduced to background characters in their own story); the film simply doesn’t do anything more than play a vaguely cautionary song with the same three chords that most of us are decidedly familiar with.

Walk, don’t Runaway, from this pedestrian rock bio-pic.

Review by Ian Gilchrist.

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I've worked in entertainment product development and sales & marketing in the U.S., UK and my native Canada for over 20 years, and have been a part of many changes during that time (I've overseen home entertainment releases on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray). I've also written and commentated about film and music for many outlets over the years. The first film I saw in the cinema was Mary Poppins, some time in the mid-60s: I was hooked. My love of the moving image remains as strong as ever.