Poster Picks (and Bonus Movie Review): The Runaways

I don’t often review movies here at the lair beyond what I’ve been reviewing through my DVDregs project (which I haven’t forgotten about; I just prefer to spend more time reading books than watching movies). I also find that most movies that come down the Hollywood pipeline are such disappointments that I anticipate very little from the movie world anymore.

I was, however, greatly anticipating The Runaways. I’ve been a HUGE Joan Jett fan since I first heard the opening percussion and guitars of “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” And when that gorgeous, gravelly, smoke-saturated voice kicked in, my little Blackheart belonged to her. She is one of the original rocker grrls who still wails like nobody’s business, even at one notch past the half-century mark.

I didn’t learn about her early roots until much later (thank you, Interwebz!), but when I did discover The Runaways, I had another squee attack. This is the band that started the careers of Joan Jett AND Lita Ford?! Close my eyes forever, indeed.

So I began paying more attention to the cinema chat swirling around this one, and that’s when I stumbled upon the teaser poster for this movie.

What a big hot mess of sexual innuendo!

Let’s start with the tagline: “It’s 1975 and they’re about to explode.”

Okay, this could be interpreted in non-sexual ways, especially if you assume that people viewing this poster know who The Runaways were in the music world and subsequently look at this statement from a purely musical standpoint. 1975 was a year filled with some…interesting chart-topping musicians: Captain and Tenille. Glen Campbell. John Denver. K.C. & the Sunshine Band. Barry Manilow. The Carpenters. The Bee Gees. Melissa Manchester.

1975 was basically an easy listening station’s wet dream. But something was brewing under the surface on both sides of the Atlantic…something awesome and raucous and loud. The punk rock scene hit huge in ’75, with the appearance of groups like the Sex Pistols, Blondie, and the Ramones. I won’t try to ramble on anymore about punk rock since I have already pointed out that music knowledge is not one of my strong points (I only knew about these three groups because I like their music).

However, just this little bit of knowledge gives credence to the tagline’s statement that “It’s 1975 and they’re about to explode.” The Runaways were most assuredly nothing like The Carpenters. Their different-from-mainstream sound was ready to explode onto the scene and take that filthy muskrat love hostage. Plus, their arrival on the music scene meant the arrival of the girls to the predominantly boys’ club of hard rock.

Then we get to the poster’s solitary graphic: a ripe, red, luscious, dripping cherry with a lit fuse for a stem.

Again, let’s assume some Runaways knowledge. Probably their biggest hit was the song “Cherry Bomb.” It not only shows up on every Runaways compilation out there, but Jett has included her renditions on both her greatest hit CDs. So here we have the visual representation of the proverbial cherry bomb, made even more prominent by the black background.

[Loba Tangent: I love how this bright red image against the black background is so evocative of the poster for that 1975 movie cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.]

[Loba Post-Posting Tangent: I just realized, after looking at the poster on a monitor with a brighter contrast than the monitor I was previously on that the black background has the overlay of a record (you know, those crazy huge discs that artists now melt and sculpt into bowls?) ghosted into it. Nice touch!]

Then you get the names of the two principal actors, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, in a simple white sans serif, hovering above a roughly spray-painted and smudged stencil of the movie title, in matching cherry red paint. It’s amateurish but bold, which are definitely two things that could be applied to the early days of this band.

Of course, if we remove the assumption that people looking at this poster have any idea of who The Runaways were or what they meant to the music world, this poster drips with sexual innuendo (literally!), just like I originally said. Then again, with lyrics like “I’ll give ya something to live for! Have ya, grab ya til you’re sore!” there’s very little room for interpretation here. The Runaways were fiercely sexual, often referred to as “Jail Bait Rock” for obvious reasons: They were all in their teens or barely 20, with original lead singer Cherie Curie only 15 when she joined the band. Gives that “ready to explode” cherry a whole different connotation there, eh?

Sex sells, and this poster definitely sells the sexuality of this movie and this group.

Bonus Movie Review

I’ve already said a lot about the group The Runaways with my poster review. So what about the movie? I cringe a little at calling this movie a proper biopic of the entire group. It really isn’t.

The screenplay is based upon Cherie Curie’s Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. Curie was only with the band from 1975-77, so obviously basing the script on her recollections isn’t going to give the full story. Also, it’s her memoir so it’s told from her perspective with her take on what was happening. Jett was tapped to provide additional information, to help flesh out the story (which is only appropriate since Jett was the group’s founding member with drummer Sandy West, who died in 2006 of lung cancer).

That being said, obviously the focus of this movie was Curie, with Jett playing a substantial secondary role. I was actually very surprised by this, for two reasons. One, Joan Jett is the most successful musician to come from the original line-up and she was a co-founder, so you’d think she’d be more of the focus. Two, look at the teaser poster: Kristen Stewart received billing ahead of Dakota Fanning. I took this as an indication that her role would be more substantial. I guess it really was a matter of box office pull. Stewart is the bigger name thanks to those shitty twinkly vampire movies the Twilight franchise.

I’ve never read Curie’s memoir but I can only assume that it’s a bit of a weak read based on the overall weakness of this movie’s screenplay. There’s an absence of cohesion throughout the storytelling. Also, the band members who aren’t Curie or Jett get supremely shafted in screen time as well as character development. Case in point: The biggest scene for Lita Ford is brief and tantamount to a hissy fit. Regardless of whether or not this was an accurate portrayal or just how Curie remembered this particular moment, it makes Ford one-dimensional and rather unsympathetic. Again, though, since this is from Curie’s perspective, maybe that was the ultimate goal.

Negatives of the screenplay aside, this movie’s strength resides in those two names on the poster. I still find Dakota Fanning unnerving. She’s literally the oldest young person I’ve ever seen. However, she brings a fierceness and energy to her portrayal of Cherie Curie that is incendiary. Her transformation from mousy waif from a broken home to corseted, drug-addled prima donna jail bait was almost completely believable (hindered only by the obvious and unchangeable truth that Fanning isn’t all these things, so it’s really all pretend in the end).

As for Stewart’s performance as Joan Jett? This is the kind of acting I want to see more of from Stewart. She has an ability to completely immerse herself into a role to spectacular effect. For this movie, Stewart was Joan Jett, right down to the burgeoning of those amazing sexy-growly vocals that are synonymous with Jett’s solo career.

Jett herself is on record as stating that the first time she listened to a recording of Stewart singing one of the movie’s songs, she thought the producers had made a mistake and sent her a recording of herself from those days. Whether this is movie hype hyperbole or not, both Stewart and Fanning nailed their musical impersonations, making their contributions to the movie’s soundtrack excellent additions.

Yes, I have the soundtrack already. It’s actually quite good, a substantial mix of movie Runaways and real Runaways music interspersed with songs from other punk/rock scions like Suzi Quatro (Leather Tuscadero!!), The Stooges, Sex Pistols, MC5, and David Bowie.

Regardless of screenplay flaws, this is one raucous, vulgar, in-your-face, wild ride into the true essence of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” and the brakes are out and there’s no stopping until the cliff appears ahead and we all go plummeting to our rock goddess deaths. But we’ll be so hopped up on whatever pills and booze we can get our hands on, we just won’t care.

I think the only thing that I would have loved to see more of was toward the end, when Jett began to be the dominant character and we started seeing her metamorphosis into the soon-to-be Jett of Blackhearts fame. And when Stewart appeared toward the movie’s end, wearing that fuchsia blazer with the hyper-huge shoulder pads? I squeed a little. And immediately pictured this in my mind:

I love rock-n-roll, too, Joan. Oh, yes, I do.

Of course, we don’t need a biopic on Jett. We know what happened with her post-Runaways. But I wouldn’t complain if Stewart wanted to finally stop hanging out with sparkly vampires and sink her teeth into another Jett-based role. Until then, though, I’ve added The Runaways to my wishlist and am looking forward to firing up the soundtrack for my commute home. Drive me wild…