IT'S NO SECRET the Runaways were a band that got a startling amount of mileage out of just a handful of songs, along with a manufactured jailbait mystique. While music biopics are often aimed at the heavy hitters on the Billboard charts—Ray, The Doors, Dylan six times over in I'm Not There—a film dedicated to a short-lived, all-girl act that was equal parts inspiration and novelty seems like little more than an excuse for creepy film executives to perv out on Dakota Fanning in a tube top.
But if you can overlook more than a few heavy-handed clichés, you'll discover The Runaways to be a fine coming-of-age film that offers a welcomingly realistic look at the brief spark and fade of five teenage girls and their short-run at fame. Set to a mid-'70s score, The Runaways follows a teenaged Cherie Currie (Fanning) and Joan Jett (Twilight's stupid lamb AKA Kristen Stewart). The girls' boring suburban lives of huffing and hanging at the Pup 'N' Fries take a different direction when they team up with the ranting Kim Fowley (Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon). He sticks them into a practice space, along with Sandy West (Stella Maeve), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), and a fictitious bassist named "Robin" (Alia Shawkat—apparently real-life Runaway Jackie Fox wanted no part of this), then the Svengali-like Fowley berates them until they become famous.
Fame comes quick, as does the obligatory drug use, in-studio fights, veiled lesbianism, plus more than a few aforementioned clichés scattered about (after an uptight male guitar instructor informs Jett that "girls don't play electric guitars," we hear "It's a Man's World"). But ultimately the film's saving grace is its focus on the relationship between Currie and her confidante and occasional protector, Jett. Their story makes The Runaways a welcome relief from the expected crash and burn of the rock biopic genre.