I feel like I’ve been pretty spoiled for kickass girl movies over the last twelve months, and The Runaways kept that streak alive a lot more effectively than I’d have expected. Not that it’s anywhere near as polished and joyous as Whip It. The editing and camera work are a complete fucking disaster. It watches like leafing through a stack of postcards and has precisely no cohesion or direction. There’s no real reason why The Runaways couldn’t have been as genre defining and visionary as Oliver Stone’s The Doors, and to be honest it nearly was. It just needed some passion in the editing suite and a script that was interested in bringing out the characters and letting them shine instead of strapping them into a rollercoaster and setting cameras up at regular intervals to capture their expressions.

I don’t know, maybe Floria Sigismondi used to work at the photobooth at the end of one of the Superman rollercoasters in a Six Flags somewhere and it left a deep impression. Whatever the reason, I had to fight the shit editing and camera work to stay invested and that actually turned out to be not all that hard. Disturbingly enough, it’s because Kristen Stewart came out of fucking nowhere to turn in a masterful performance as Joan Jett. I’m willing to allow that she wasn’t given much of anything to use in Twilight as Bella is probably the weakest and most bland film character I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering, but I can’t say she did much for me in Adventureland either.

But for some reason, and it could really all just be down to the much higher caliber of character, Stewart spreads her wings and dares to match the predictably arresting Dakota Fanning beat for beat, line for line, moment for moment. From the first moment you see Stewart, you’re forced to admit that she is transformed and bears no resemblance to any of her previous roles. Her slouch and loping gait immediately suggest the earth moving gender warrior about to take shape in front of us. The film’s greatest triumph lies in the opening minutes that brilliantly and subtly place Jett and Curie in rock and roll history. With the rise of glam rock usurping femininity from the cultural landscape, they initially turn to exploring masculine identities in building their images as performers. Jett wears hers with ease and comfort while Currie slides out of hers almost immediately and is sucked into the sex doll roll that eventually tears the band apart.

Fanning is just as perfect in the role as anyone would expect from the blossoming child star, but she follows such an iconic and well worn character arc that it’s almost not worth mentioning. She gets used up and thrown aside, eventually recovering and putting the tattered pieces of her life back together. From my perspective, Jett’s trajectory and Stewart’s against all odds evocation is what makes the movie and saves the film. Queer girls already are and will continue to be buzzing about it for years to come, and that’s probably what the ultimate legacy of the film will be depending on where Stewart’s career goes from here.

I could even dare to dream that Kristen Stewart’s Joan Jett will eclipse and relegate Angelina Jolie’s Gia to a footnote in the annals of queer female roles, but that won’t happen. That Stewart evokes a confident and powerful woman who wears a more masculine image will work against such mainstream accolades. It’s probably only because of Fanning’s portrayal of the exploited ingenue and perhaps Jett’s executive producer credit that her sexuality and image were allowed to remain organic and without the voyeuristic gloss of female sexuality for the consumption of a male audience, which Gia panders to mightily.

Probably what I would have hoped for most and was completely absent from the film is what the experience of The Runaways was from the perspective of women listening to them in the era. I kept wanting to find a reason to elevate the film to being a natural companion to the cult classic Velvet Goldmine. Certainly there was room to talk about the effects of the redefinition of male sexuality of the era on women and women performers in specific and it got touched on for all of three brilliantly executed lines by Michael Shannon’s deft and inhuman portrayal of Kim Fowley. Ultimately we get a peak into a very different side of a male dominated genre that quickly and irretrievably merges with an almost carbon copy of that experience, never quite making it into the daring and unique story that hovered just below the surface for the entire running time.

All in all, I might be trying to justify a train wreck of a movie on the back of a single noteworthy performance. I’m pretty sure that most of what I’m saying comes down to “this movie kinda sucks but Kristen Stewart is actually really good and pretty hot and slouches a lot,” but I’d like to pretend that means something pretty significant since I’ve spent two years finding different ways to shit on Twilight and excoriate it for being the worst thing to happen to women since female circumcision. Just go watch it. Dakota Fanning snorts a lot of coke and cosplays David Bowie, so in some ways she’s playing Lady Gaga before Stephani Germanotta was even born. That’s pretty cool. Almost as cool as Kristen Stewart playing with knives, shooting gin into Dakota’s mouth with a water gun, and teaching her bandmates to masturbate in the shower to Farrah Fawcett.

Aw fuck, I think I did this review in reverse. I probably should have started with the cocaine and homosexy, then finished with the rambling about the shit camera work. Whatever. Consider it a reward for actually reading the whole thing.

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