If you're planning to see the 2010 biopic The Runaways out of a pre-existing interest in the titular '70s all-girl rock band, then there's a good chance that you're also coming in with some concerns about casting. Can angsty Twilight teen Kristen Stewart really handle playing the original badass rock chick Joan Jett? Are we really supposed to buy the unnervingly articulate child star Dakota Fanning as jailbait bombshell Cherie Currie? Seeing as how the film is based on Currie's memoir, and focuses for the most part on her and Jett's friendship (as well as their semi-witting roles as commercially exploited teenagers/bird-flipping feminist pioneers in a male-dominated industry), there's a lot riding on the performances of the two leads.
Well you can breathe a sigh of relief, because Stewart and Fanning both hit it out of the park. Starting with some traditional background info on Currie and Jett, the movie walks us through the basics of life as a latchkey rocker girl in the San Fernando Valley. Currie gets booed at the school talent show when she does a hyper-stylized tribute to David Bowie. A well-meaning music teacher tells Jett that "girls don't play electric guitar." In addition to being generally alienated people, both girls have co-dependent sisters and unreliable parents, so when they meet at a local club through flamboyant/creepy/possibly abusive record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), they click. Partly through Fowley's Svengali-ism and partly through their own creative alchemy, the girls team up with a handful of other high-school-aged female musicians and form the Runaways.
On paper, the story is no different than any other musical biopic, complete with the eventual decent into the show-business pit of drugs, egos, and creative strife. But while the story may be a little unsurprising, the way it plays out onscreen is absolutely striking. The narrative is totally personal, telling the tale so intimately from Jett's and Currie's points-of-view that the visceral nature of the film is almost unnerving. And that's really to Stewart's and Fanning's credit; they both play extremely reticent characters, and yet they still evoke penetrating internal views into the young women's experiences and friendship. For a band so flashy and loud, it may be a more cerebral take on the Runaways than fans would have expected, but the film's emotive style serves the group well, telling the side of the story that we didn't already know.