The world of biopics is divided into two. Those that do the bare minimum in telling the stories of their protagonists, and then those that go beyond that and don’t want to just tell the stories but also experiment and do things differently. Sadly, The Runaways falls into the former, doing the minimum when telling the story of this band of pioneer women who took the rock scene by storm.
The Runaways is directed by Floria Sigismondi and stars Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon and Riley Keough. The film tells the story of the rise and fall of The Runaways in the rock music scene during the 80s.
The 80s were witnesses to many bands that came, made lots of noise, and then went away as quickly as they came. The Runaways is one of those bands, and while their legacy has remained intact thanks to a couple of very catchy songs, the band is still obscure, especially to younger generations. The film might incite curiosity in some people to find out about the band, but most members of the audience will find zero incentive to look for more information after watching this.
Sigismondi debuts here as director, and it shows her framing and visuals are generic at best most of the time, while striving towards brilliance a couple of times, here and there. Sigismondi also pens the script, and that might be the reason the movie never tries to experiment with anything. Her range as both a writer and a director seems somehow restrained all the time.
Thankfully, the movie has some great performances that help balance out the other creative shortcomings. Stewart is, of course, the standout, embodying Joan Jett fully, both in her looks and in her attitude. This is Stewart in the midst of her role as the protagonist of The Twilight Saga, and yet she finds time to do these small indie films that will help define her career in the future. It is nice to go back and see part of that process.
The other standout is Michael Shannon, now an Oscar-nominated actor. Shannon is just a cool performer, and his energy is infectious. He might even be the best character in the film, even if his character is a bit of a jerk.
As it is, the movie will be remembered more as part of Stewart’s filmography than anything else. Its shallowness hurts each moment of plot and character development, as it seems to be afraid to linger too long in these moments. But worst of all, while its aspirations are clear, the lack of the punk rock feeling that made the band what it was is totally absent. Instead, the movie moves in the space between the clean and the tame.
Maybe in the future, these types of films will learn to go beyond the facts and go into riskier territory, exactly as Stewart’s Spencer did with the Princess Diana story. There have been some clear strides in this more interesting direction, but they require powerful creative forces behind them, and sadly, The Runaways didn’t have one.