At last night’s midtown Manhattan press screening of the highly anticipated biopic The Runaways, a diminutive figure in a black hoodie slunk into the front row minutes before the lights dimmed. I could just make out a pair of Kohl-rimmed eyes and an inky fringe, but it was the unmistakable slouch that made me wonder: “Is that Kristen Stewart?” I was half-right. It was Joan Jett, the pioneering hard rocker portrayed in the film by Stewart.
The Runaways tells the story of its namesake band—the all-girl teen band that launched Jett’s career in the 1970s. It tells the age-old tale of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, but with the twist that it’s all from a young woman’s perspective. Directed by photographer and music-video director Floria Sigismondi, the movie stars two of the most sought-after young actresses working today: Dakota Fanning, who plays the drug-addled lead singer, Cherie Currie; and Stewart, the face of the Twilight film franchise (which also, coincidentally, features Fanning). Both actresses are roughly the age their fictional counterparts were at the height of their fame, and both seem eager to leave behind their doe-eyed images (and fan bases) and venture into more mature artistic territory. Judging from this effort, they may well succeed.
Aggressive, raw, and amped up on frenetic—and sexual—hunched-punk intensity, Stewart’s Jett smokes, snorts, and struts with abandon, her energy centered strategically in her pelvis. (I can’t wait to see what the Twi-hards make of this!) A favorite scene—and there were many—takes place in the bathroom where Jett gives a blasé “lesson” to one of her band mates about how to pleasure oneself with a shower head while visualizing Farrah Fawcett. This is a woman who revels in her well-earned bad reputation. “I want what he’s wearing,” she says, and she is never disappointed.
Then there’s Fanning as Currie, the kittenish blonde who fronts the band like a female crossbreed of Ziggy Stardust and Keith Richards. Like Jett, she’s an outcast born into a virtually fatherless home, game for whatever adventure comes her way. She falls into The Runaways by chance (unlike Jett, who charges ahead with unbridled intensity) and easily succumbs to rock’s infinite varieties of candy. Fanning’s performance is both chilling and convincing, and will serve as the cautionary foil to every underage girl who sees this movie (they will find a way to get in) and is inspired to mimic its lifestyle (they will want to mimic it—I found myself jonesing for a guitar and a cigarette when it was over).
While there’s nothing that will surprise you story-wise, especially if you’ve read about the history of The Runaways, the sheer force of the girl-power energy that went into the film combined with the contagious ferocity of the music (featuring impressive vocals by Stewart and Fanning) will leave you jumpy—in a good way. You’ll want the soundtrack, not to mention every album The Runaways and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts produced, and you’ll definitely want more of Stewart and Fanning.
And what does Joan Jett want? Nothing too complicated. I happened to overhear her in the ladies room after the screening telling one admirer, “I just want people to enjoy it.”