Posted by: *carrie* | April 13, 2010

Watch This (Maybe): The Runaways

This past weekend I chose to spend my dollars seeing The Runaways, the film about Joan Jett’s all-girl band. I’m a sucker for films about musicians and/or bands. It doesn’t matter that the formula is always: start band –> work hard –> sudden success –> sex, drugs, rock’n roll, good times, kings/queens of the world –> destruction of band due to sex, drugs, rock’n roll –> moment of redemption.

The (real) Runaways 1975

I had already read some early reviews of The Runaways, so I knew some things up front. For instance, the film focuses almost entirely on Joan Jett and Cherie Curry and portrays Kim Fowley as a complete creep. In part, this is because the film is based on the book by Cherie Curry Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. The movie was getting okay reviews. No one was amazed, no one hated it. I kind of fell into the same position.

I enjoyed the film. I had a moment of elation, when the band was first revealed,  when I said “Pash is in this?!?!” (Pash being the best friend of Bliss in Whip It). “Pash”  is actually the acress Alia Shawkat. Notable not just for her acting ability, but  because she’s not white, not size two, not traditionally Hollywood. So imagine my  disappointment when I discovered that her character, Robin the bass player, had no actual lines. She’s in several scenes, and in the background talking or celebrating, but nothing else. The other two band members have very minor lines. Otherwise, the show is entirely about Joan & Cherie.

To its credit, the film passes The Bechdel Test with flying colors. There’s some commentary about the way young women with guitars were (and are) viewed and treated. When Joan attempts to take some guitar lessons from an Old White Dude, he tells her to leave her guitar unplugged and begins with Old Smokey. When Joan calls him on it, he says, simply, that girls don’t play electric guitars.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t explore this territory nearly as much as it should have. We never find out how or when any of The Runaways decide to be musicians, much less musicians playing rock & roll in the realm of men. Joan already knows guitar, Sandy already knows drums, and Cherie is chosen, very bluntly, for her “look”.

Instead what emerges is a coming of age story that focuses on the relationship between Joan and Cherie. It’s beautiful, it’s sweet, it’s naive, it’s punk rock. If I didn’t already know that the film was directed by a woman, I would have been surprised. The number of sexually charged lesbian scenes got boring. (On the other hand, it was nice to see a film treat the lesbian sexuality and romance just like any other coming-of-age, sexual, romantic story without any message about it’s “rightness” or “wrongness”. It was just accepted for what it was).

I started this review by saying I chose to spend my dollars on this film. That was deliberate. I know that the Old White Dudes (and Young White Dudes) who run the Hollywood-movie-making-machine think that people won’t see films by women, directed by women, or about women. I could have waited until  The Runaways came to our $1.50 movie theatre, which is the way we see almost all of our new-ish movies. Instead, I actively chose to spend money on opening weekend on a film that was written by a woman, directed by a woman, starred women, and was about women. If nothing else, money matters. It influences the types of films that will get made in the future (or the types of television shows, or the types of books…).

So if you’re inclined to enjoy the formula of the rock & roll movie, I’d recommend you see The Runaways. You’ll be supporting women in film and enjoying yourself.

Edited to add: Here’s a more thorough look at the film and story itself, at About Face.

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Responses

  1. Some of your readers may find my recent radio show, Tribute To The Runaways, an interesting listen. It explores the band’s music, solo music and bands that have benefited from their groundbreaking work. It can be streamed for free at http://www.neatnetnoise.com.

    There is a Kim Fowley interview on the site too.


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