Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And by that, we mean, which came first: Kristen Stewart getting the role of angsty rocker Joan Jett in The Runaways, or Stewart dressing and pouting like an angsty rocker at awards shows? Whether the role made the woman or the woman made the role, it would require some research to answer, but you can't deny that Stewart plays the part of the misfit Jett well, and is part of a decent cast that inhabits this simple, familiar, drug-addled tale of a rock-and-roll rise and fall. You can probably guess at everything that will happen, even if you don't know the story of the Runaways (an all-girl punk group that included Jett and Lita Ford), because it seems like a well-worn path for successful bands: struggle, success, drugs, breakup. But as long as you don't need a particularly engaging story, this long music video is beautifully shot and the characters all look sufficiently bad-ass for the movie's sole purpose: to chronicle how much the Runaways rocked.
Stewart, using her time-honored awards show techniques of scowling, slouching, acting out, mumbling her speech, and defying fashion norms, plays Jett as a teenage girl already experimenting with lesbianism and strumming a guitar when she buys her first black leather jacket. Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie, a Bowie-worshipping lip-syncing high school student who hangs out at the same club. When Jett approaches a famous producer (played amazingly by Michael "Crazy Eyes" Shannon) outside, he hooks her up with a drummer, then later seeks out a blonde frontwoman for them, and the rest is history. Well, presumably -- in the film, the formation is well-documented, but the rise is somewhat sudden, even for a band with as meteoric a rise as the Runaways. Small gigs and an on-the-cheap tour quickly give way to a record deal, a sold-out tour of Japan and rampant drug use. The most important thing in the small-time-gigs part is that Jett and Currie strike up a casual sexual relationship, which means Twilight fans get to see Bella and Jane make out. Otherwise, it's pretty much a romp, which later gives way to in-fighting and hospitalizations.
Fanning is as much the main character as Jett is -- possibly more, since Jett is already a moderately knowledgeable rock aficianado, while Currie is our entry-level novice: a girl playing at being a rock star who gets drafted by a mad svengali to grow up even more quickly, shed her innocence and become a sex goddess. (And really, haven't we all been through that?) We also see plenty of Currie's home life (Jett has none), with an absent mother and an alcoholic father, and Fanning plays vulnerable youth and full-of-herself frontwoman equally well, which is to say with spooky eyes and a dead girl's voice. The Oscar-nominated Shannon's insanity knows no bounds as sleazy, lying band manager Kim Fowley, and he's downright scary in a few scenes as he browbeats the girls into filling the jailbait tableau he's already painted in his head.
The rest of the band is familiar faces: drummer Sandy West is played by Emma Boardman from Gossip Girl, guitarist Ford is the new Halloween's Laurie Strode, and bassist Robin is played by Maeby from Arrested Development, but none of them really get to do much besides hold their instruments. Robin, by the way, is fictional -- the band had several bassists, but legal reasons prevented them from depicting their main bassist, Jackie Fox, who is coincidentally now a lawyer. There are probably many other fictionalizations in this film, which had Jett as a producer, but does it matter? You've got five teenage girls traveling the world kicking ass and taking names, and one of them does it in her underwear, and these were actual, real people. If this had been fiction, nobody would have believed it. Well, maybe if they were vampires.