Hello Daddy, Hello Mom

Girl rock band comes alive, again

Based on Cherrie Currie’s poorly written memoir Neon Angel: The Cherrie Currie Story (PSS Adult, 1989), about her crash-and-burn experiences with producer Kim Fowley’s manufactured all-girl rock band, The Runaways is a textbook guilty pleasure. Dakota Fanning does her best work to date as Cherrie, the band’s bisexual lead singer to Kristen Stewart’s tomboy-channeling of guitarist Joan Jett. But it’s Michael Shannon who steals the show as the famously eccentric and foul-mouthed rock ‘n’ roll impresario Fowley. Scenes of Fowley taunting the girls by throwing insults and dog-poo to extract the band’s signature in-your-face performance are riveting. Sadly, Shannon’s mascara-heavy characterization gets swept under the carpet when the newly formed band goes on tour, ostensibly because Fowley never wanted to leave L.A. to chaperone “dog meat.”

Debut filmmaker Floria Sigismondi is keen on telescoping meta meaning from the micro details of the band’s ’70s-era rock lifestyle. It’s a hit-or-miss technique that works well enough. Deep lesbian kisses, avid drug abuse and irresponsible parents play into the Dionysian hand dealt by androgynous rock gods like David Bowie and Iggy Pop, whose music figures prominently in the film’s glam-heavy soundtrack.

The Runaways veers into biopic territory on more than a few occasions. Currie’s screwed up suburban home life, with an alcoholic father and adoring twin sister, is portrayed for its soul-crushing effect. The film works better as a coming-of-age reverie about a group of tomboys who were tutored by a punk-rock Pygmalion to write songs that would outrage parents and pique the testosterone of teenaged boys who didn’t believe girls could rock.

Hello Daddy, Hello Mom

I’m your ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb

Hello world I’m your wild girl

I’m your ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb

Watching Shannon prod his underage girls into writing those still-explosive lyrics for “Cherry Bomb” in an abandoned trailer home, speaks volumes about punk’s do-it-yourself ethos. It’s an objective that’s gone missing from society for so long that the scene is shocking for the integrity it exemplifies. Fowley’s down-and-dirty rock ’n’ roll boot camp embodies the band’s musical growth with the singular goal of packaging them into a product.

Where the film comes off the rails is exactly where the band hit the skids. The irony here is that it was Currie who threw the monkey wrench after killing at big stage shows for rabid fans in Japan on a 1977 whirlwind tour. Dressed in Brigitte Bardot-inspired corset teddy, Cherrie kicks out the jams like any parent’s worst nightmare. Fanning does a perfect re-creation of Currie’s deep-squatting performance, which you can dial up on YouTube. For the first time in Fanning’s overrated career, the actress identifies with her character in an entirely believable way.

Yet, by default, the story falls back on Jett’s shoulders as the girl who memorably pees on a guitar belonging to a rival guitarist. In the end, Fowley—now 70 and still making music—and Jett are the characters we want to spend more time with. Jett’s influence in the making of the film is evidenced in her executive producer credit. Sigismondi’s next film should be a Jett biopic that picks up where The Runaways leaves off. The show must go on. It’s one lesson that Fowley didn’t teach well enough.