The fierce determination. The big break. The tyrannical and sometimes unreasonable and sometimes even crooked manager. The endless rehearsals. The performances in dingy clubs. The breakthrough. The first album. The first magazine cover. The first fans. The fights among band members and between band members and their families.
And then, inevitably, the nightmare descent into booze and drugs.
That’s just about every single episode of “VH1 Behind the Music,” because it’s just about every rock band’s real-life experience. But the very success of that series has made it extremely difficult to make a movie about a real-life rock band that does not seem strangled by the constricting inevitabilities of the rock star story arc — as numbingly familiar in movies as it is in real life.
All of that is in “The Runaways,” the story of the pioneering all-girl rock group of the 1970’s. Joan Jett (“Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart) is the one with the fierce determination, especially when a guitar teacher suggests that girls don’t rock. She wants to have an all-girl band. Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) is the perfect storm to be out front — she is very pretty, just past puberty, and has a home life so awful that she will do anything for attention and affection. When a music promoter named Kim Fowley brings them together, he tells the teenage girls (in a much cruder way) that they should rock like men.
They were one part female empowerment, one part novelty act. They were Lolitas with a backbeat, jail bait in jumpsuits, their very name emphasizing their youth and rebelliousness. And they really did not have much in common other than a lack of experience and maturity and a longing for thrills. Jett, who went on to a long rock career and is still performing, was a serious rocker. Currie, who was barely old enough to drive when The Runaways were singing “Cherry Bomb” in lingerie to packed concert halls, had no great passion for performing. It is telling that in an early scene we see her at a school talent show — lip-synching David Bowie. It is her memoir that is the basis of the movie, and so it reflects her perspective and her story. She was torn apart by family problems and soon became addicted to drugs.