Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Turn that shit off! That's what the teenage rockers in The Runaways have to say about Don McLean's "Vincent," a piece of FM schmaltz their sleazy road manager actually turns up. It's an incidental scene, but it works perfectly as a middle finger to the Elton John singalong in another well-known movie about rock, and it's one of the many clever ways that writer-director Floria Sigismondi flies the punk flag in her impressive debut movie about the seminal 1970s all-girl band.
Big in Japan and a one-hit wonder at home, the group originates as the sexploitation conceit of reptilian A&R man Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). The leader, though, is butch guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart, who finally appears comfortable in her own skin by playing someone who isn't). And the one who's becoming almost famous is Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning, killing it), the reluctant jailbait vocalist whom the rest of the band hates.
From her choices in casting (including Robert Romanus, who played alongside the real-life Currie in the 1980 Foxes) to her detailed use of Sunset Strip local color, the Italian-born director shows a commanding knowledge of her subjects. And although The Runaways casually depicts narcotics and lesbian amour, and although Sigismondi obviously reveres David Bowie (she has directed videos for him), her movie amounts to more than a fangirl's sapphic Velvet Goldmine. Refusing to ironize rock and roll, The Runaways reaffirms the music's fundamental credo: If you free your ass, your mind just might follow.