Movie Maniac

Stewart, Fanning lift ordinary 'Runaways'

If the glam-rock flashiness of the '70s was just a way of dressing up the ordinary, the all-girl rock band biopic "The Runaways" has the same mentality. It tells a familiar story in a familiar way, but with extra-heavy eyeliner and a snarling attitude.

Following the early days of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie when they were just 15, the film is also a coming-of-age tale, although it isn't heavy on motivation. We don't get an in-depth look at what drove the girls to be musicians or stars.

But we do get electrifying performances from Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") as Jett and Dakota Fanning ("Charlotte's Web") as Currie.

Also, the energy of the film matches its great music, and that makes up for shortcomings in the story. It's all a fun ride if you just go with the flow — kind of like the songs that become the film's pulsating heartbeat.

Early on, we see Currie as she enters a talent show lip-synching to David Bowie and getting booed by the crowd. Meanwhile, Jett tries to take guitar lessons as her male teacher tells her "girls don't play electric guitar." That's about all the musical backstory we get.

Then Jett meets legendary rock producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) at a club, who introduces her to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve).

They start jamming together and bring in more girls to play, including Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton). But they need a hot singer.

They spot Currie at a club and have her audition. Eventually, she joins the band, as Fowley trains them and readies them for the masculine world of rock 'n' roll.

Then we follow the band as it rises to moderate success — and as things fall apart with jealousy issues and Currie diving deeper and deeper into drug abuse.

Eventually, the band breaks up, though Jett goes on to a successful career fronting Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

And her story should have been the focus here, rather than Currie's (even though the film is based on her book "Neon Angel"). Jett is the more captivating character — fierce in her pursuit of the music, fearless in her fight to be herself (lesbian tendencies are explored) —even though we're never offered more than the obvious. Credit Stewart, though, for bringing much depth to an underwritten role.

Fanning does the same thing, showing how confused and frightened Currie became — these were, after all, only kids — and eventually collapsing under the strain. But her plight is more cliched, less involving.

Still, "The Runaways" is an engaging and nostalgic portrait. It certainly doesn't break any new ground, but in a movie where Jett emerges as the hero, that's probably groundbreaking enough.