There are films that mesmerize you and draw you in from the first few seconds.

Then there are movies like THE RUNAWAYS…

The 70s were gritty and harsh: lots of drugs, exploitative, potentially degrading sex and some of the ugliest fashion of the last one hundred years.

There’s decadence (which can be very hot) and then there’s behaviour that’s simply repulsive.

In the opening scene, CHERIE CURRIE (DAKOTA FANNING) and her sister MARIE (RILEY KEOUGH) rush to a public bathroom.

Marie has her period. It’s her first time. When they get back to the car, Marie’s much older scumbag boyfriend is waiting eagerly for them.

Cherie slips into the back seat. “Marie’s not wearing any underwear.”

The scuzzball reaches across to Marie and simultaneously starts caressing her sibling. “I hope that runs in the family.”

There are endless shots of dog poo in a trailer park. At one point, buckets of miscellaneous objects are thrown at the members of the band to toughen them up before they go on tour. Included are copious amounts of canine excrement.

The band’s manager bangs women while he’s talking to the girls on the phone.

BOOGIE NIGHTS took place during the same era. It was an exceptionally exhilarating alluring motion picture…and it was about porn.

Obviously, tone is everything.

THE RUNAWAYS charts the rise and inevitable fall of the eponymous hard core all girl rock band – the first of its kind. Formed in the mid 70s, they rose to a precarious level of fame only to come crashing down by the end of the decade.

Directed and written (appallingly) by FLORIA SIGISMONDI, an artist/photographer who has also helmed a number of music videos, this film possesses no Hollywood gloss. Instead it’s a falsely styled indie version of life in the fast lane.

CHERIE CURRIE is 15 in 1975. She’s a sophisticated arty teenager that longs for self expression.

JOAN JETT (KRISTEN STEWART) is a year older. She’s drawn to the guitar in an era where girls had yet to level the playing field.

She meets the reptilian KIM FOWLEY (MICHAEL SHANNON) at a club. He’s well known for putting bands together. He thinks Joan may have some unique potential.

It’s his idea to have a sexy Brigitte Bardot type as a lead singer. That’s where Cheri comes in. He introduces the girls and they get set for their tempestuous ride into oblivion.

At this point in a newly minted century, it seems particularly absurd that the band members being under age (with all the provocation that that entails) was actually viewed as a plus. People would be outraged now.

But those were different times…

Of course it all went straight to hell. It was simply inevitable. The girls were immersed in their first full blown flushes of sexual power. They were growing up in a wild spectacularly unfettered place and time. Fame was the ultimate drug. That turned out to be their undoing.

Mix in creepy older men, an incredible amount of pressure, (hormonalized) tensions within the band…and you have a savage implosion just waiting to unfold.

JOAN JETT, of course, got out unscathed and became a rock and roll legend. She had the strength, the drive and the talent to stay on course.

Despite its glaring problems, the film does have some interesting positives.

Stylistically, it rings true. The layered shag haircuts and Cherie’s heightened version of adolescent glamour – gold lame platform boots, black velvet outfits and sparkly blue eye make up – are exceptionally authentic.

There is some excellent acting.

MICHAEL SHANNON is not only menacing. He’s completely terrifying. Fowley is a manipulative monster. He’s one of the biggest tools in cinematic history. (Not in a complimentary sense, of course.)

But it takes a magnificent actor with great courage to play a pathetic creature in that particular manner.

KRISTEN STEWART eventually wins you over as the hard edged bad ass JOAN. Watching her is a blast.

The camera loves DAKOTA FANNING. She has charisma to burn and an astounding presence. When she breaks down at the end, it’s impossible not to feel for her.

But these three accomplished performers (as well as a highly intriguing RILEY KEOUGH) will easily rise above this mess.

In a few months, no one will even remember this flick. These actors will undoubtedly go on to better projects.

THE RUNAWAYS is almost a complete washout. There are a couple of good scenes towards the end that nearly make it palatable.

When the girls perform Cherry Bomb in front of a live audience, that has some actual heat to it.

There’s also an extended sequence where a wasted Cheri gets thrown out of a supermarket for attempting to purchase a bottle of vodka. She walks across a long stretch of California desert to eventually find a secluded phone booth. She calls her sister to pick her up, then has the meltdown of the decade when Marie refuses her request because she’s at work.

But it’s all too little too late.

The very best thing about THE RUNAWAYS is the poignant poetic classic VINCENT (STARRY STARRY NIGHT) by DON McLEAN, which is played intermittently throughout.

Nothing in this movie could ever compare to that splendid melancholy loveliness.

There’s pretentious BS…and then there’s just BS.

I think I need a shower.

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