Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Runaways" Review

"The Runaways" isn't much of a film, but it has so much damn style that it's hard not to be intermittently enthused by music video director Floria Sigismondi's music video of a movie. Her chipper cutting and blisteringly upbeat Joan Jett/Runaways soundtrack makes, on one hand, for spontaneous and thrilling tour sequences, which on the other, emphasize how hopelessly average the narrative around them is. Sigismondi has worked with the likes of Sheryl Crow and David Bowie, and understands the symbiotic relationship between sound and image—The problem is that when the film rolls sans tunage, she can't quite find the rhythm.

I suppose she didn't have the best script to work with, and as she's also credited with the adaptation of Cherie Currie's book, I'm inclined to blame conservative manipulation of fact in her writing before her direction. Knowing literally nothing about the Runaways as a band going in, I couldn't care less if "That's how it happened." In truth, I found their rise to superstardom in the first act of the film fortuitous to the point of contrivance.

The truth may be stranger than fiction, but watching characters I met ten minutes ago immediately succeed isn't endearing, it's alienating, especially in proximity to yet another groaningly caricatural cinematic businessman. You’ve got Giovanni Ribisi in "Avatar," Jon Bernthal in "The Ghost Writer," and now Michael Shannon in "The Runaways," all in the span of, what, four months? Hollywood, I get it. Corporate guys are weasels. Even your corporate guys. With the omission of Jeremy Piven, I just don't find it funny or compelling anymore. It's cheap, lazy character writing.

But Shannon's performance in "The Runaways" is a minor gripe compared with its overall insubstantiality. The band biopic is nothing new, and while I commend Sigismondi for not watering down the sex, drugs, and rock and roll to cater to the sort of PG-13 audience that would eat up anything Kristen Stewart is doing by peripheral association, her film is still intellectually immature and fundamentally broken.

For starters, Stewart as Joan Jett has every reason to be our protagonist except a book deal. Cherie's got a louse of a father, a strained relationship with her sister, and a burgeoning singing career complete with a trendy drug habit. Really, movie? The 'price of fame' angle? Give me a fucking break. The family stuff should carry weight, and doesn't, because the bulk of the film is bubblegum, which I'm perfectly content to chew. Just don't tell me it's a three-course meal.

"The Runaways" is overlong. Its second half, which sinks into the band's inevitable downturn of fortune, comes to a screeching halt to flesh out story bits that I didn't care about to begin with. Sing that "Cherry Bomb" song again.

The problem is there's no reason to care, and entertainment value alone doesn't cover for the obviously weak story. And if the story is weak, as I suspect it is, because it's based nearly to the T on the honest to God truth, then with all due respect, it doesn't make for great cinema as is. Aspiring biopic writers, here's a tip: lie a little.

Like I mentioned in my "Ghost Writer" review last week, it's ultimately character that begets emotional gravity, not an event itself. Pill popping, drunkard dads, and band infighting don't amount to a hill of beans unless I really care about who those people are.

Sigismondi's film is strung up on the rack and pulled from both ends until its neither frenetic rock pic nor indie coming of age story, which is a shame, because the former is executed so well. When the music stops, it's all too clear that as far as drama goes, "The Runaways" is an absentee.


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