The Dirtiest Movie Your Teenager Must See
By Kristen Page-Kirby
Let’s go ahead and get all the inappropriate content in “The Runways” out of the way first. It’s a movie about a rock band in the 70s, so go ahead and make a list of everything you think will be in the film. I’ll wait.
OK, if you didn’t include “Kristen Stewart urinating on a guitar,” you didn’t go far enough.
But you should try to get your teenage girl to see it anyway.
Teenage Joan Larkin (Kristen Stewart) loves rock n’ roll. But in 1975, rock was essentially a man’s world. With the help of producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), she puts together an all-girl band called “The Runaways.” Lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) is brought on last and quickly becomes the Lolitaesque focal point. The girls enjoy fame, fortune, and absolutely fabulous makeup and hair choices, as well as much partaking in the “sex and drugs” part of rock and roll.
Fanning’s compelling performance as Currie is the standout, but Stewart makes a surprisingly effective effort as Joan Jett. She doesn’t quite channel Jett (who could?), but she’s particularly good when she’s not the focus of the scene. When she has to deliver lines, it’s clear she’s not speaking in her own voice, but when she’s in a corner watching others, she inhabits the character easily and well. The other band members don’t get much screen time, which is a shame—Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”), in particular, can certainly do more than stand in a corner with a bass.
Director Floria Sigismondi certainly shows her strong music-video background. The concert footage in particular is outstanding and leave you with your ears ringing, just like it should. In fact, the soundtrack is also a wonderful blend of atmosphere and commentary; at the beginning, every song is from an all male (or male-fronted) band. But the end credits belong to Joan.
So why should your daughter go see this? Because she probably saw “Twilight.” And she probably saw “The Last Song.” And she’s probably seen hundreds of movies with female protagonists where her biggest concern is prom or her vampire boyfriend or some combination of the two. She’s probably seen movies where girls have sex and are punished for it, or where girls are so pure and untouched they might as well be kept in Barbie doll boxes. But the girls (and they are girls—Cherie is 15) in “The Runways” are active. They WANT things. Sometimes the things they want aren’t good for them, that’s true. But they do not sit around waiting for things to happen. They do not mope. When they’re unhappy, they do something to make themselves happy, rather than waiting for someone to do it for them.
And as for sex: There are some very, very smart scenes about how teenage girls are both marketed and marketed to. After Cherie participates in a rather sensual photo shoot, Joan is furious, pointing out that now everyone will think they’re just about sex. “Publicize the music,” she fumes. “Not your crotch.” And Sigismondi draws a very distinct line about what happens to the members of the band, particularly Cherie, within the story, versus how she films them—to the audiences in the film, Cherie is eroticized. To the audience of the film, she is erotic. There’s a difference, and it’s one that teenage girls should understand.
So, please. I know she’s going to see the next “Twilight.” (If you’re interested in why I dislike that series so much, go here. And here.) Just let or encourage her to see this one. Go with her. Then talk about how much better it is to plug in then tune out.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family Magazine. This week she also reviewed “Date Night.”