Thursday 16 September 2010


This Dakota Fanning/Kristen Stewart starring biopic is now in cinemas.
Read my review after the jump...

After approaching producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) about starting an all girl rock band, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) goes on the lookout for a girl to front the group. She meets Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a 15 year old David Bowie enthusiast with a troubled family life. Soon the group finds a record contract and heads off in search of fame and fortune, taking in all the excesses of life on the road.

I went into this film knowing a little bit about who Joan Jett was, but I was unfamiliar with the band that started her career, or the friendship and rivalry she shared with bandmate Cherie Currie. I knew of the song Cherrybomb (which features heavily here) from the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, but my knowledge stopped there. Jett and Currie were the closest thing to Jagger & Richards or the Lennon & McCartney girl groups had. The relationship is shown as love/hate, but the pair never really have any huge 'Yoko' moment, and it's never really stated why they stopped working together. I got the feeling that the pair (both involved in the making of the film) didn't want to re-open old wounds, but it doesn't really do this biography a service. 

Being based on the book by Cherie Currie, it's her family life that's given the most backstory, with her jealous sister and ineffectual parents her one constant. The other teenage girls might as well be orphans as their parents as completely absent. They've all got daddy issues, but it's only Currie's who has a visible presence in her life, albeit as a drunkard. 

It'd be easy to say that Dakota Fanning's all grown up now, but she really isn't. She's dainty and innocent and is just a 15 year old girl playing dress up. This isn't a criticism; it kind of makes her perfect for the role. She's definitely not the irritating young moppet of five years ago, with some very frank displays of burgeoning sexuality on show. It's a good lead performance from Fanning, and it looks like she will make that leap from child star. I suppose it's better she finds an outlet for her wild side on screen rather than going down the Drew Barrymore/Lindsay Lohan route.

Michael Shannon appears as Kim Fowley, the record producer eager to exploit his new pet project. He teaches them the do's and don'ts of rock and roll (including how to ward off hecklers), but is perhaps the most abusive man in these young girls lives. Whilst the girls think they're doing it for female empowerment, Fowley organises some very suspect photo shoots for his jailbait leads, knowing what the audience really want from these girls. He's a gigantic, looming figure in the making of the band, and if you thought Michael Shannon had a commanding screen presence before, wait until you see him adorned with glam rock make-up.

One character who's never fully fleshed out is Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett. We never get to learn much about the most famous band member's early life apart from that she likes rock and roll and wearing leather jackets. She's all about the music instead of the celebrity, but comes across as slightly bland compared to the wild child Cherie Currie.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll are all present, but the impact felt by their excesses is never fully explored. Pills are popped quite openly by all the band members, but it's surprising that the ill effects are mostly skipped over, given that they had some pretty devastating effects on Currie's life. If you're going to show the highs of life on the road, you need to balance it out by showing the post-tour lows.

Although I did enjoy the film overall, it does short change you on the real story, leaving you at the end with a lot of blanks left to fill. It's a frustrating choice that doesn't do the group's lives justice. Currie's demons are hinted at but never fully explained or shown, and the film leaves her in an inaccurately sober and together state. The film's postscript offers up some fairly intriguing facts about Cherie and Joan's lives post-Runaways, but for some reason weren't deemed relevant to the film's narrative. There's some good musical performances (their Japanese show is a highlight) and is well acted, but it's a somewhat irritatingly abridged look at the lives of the band.


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