Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Naive love and cynical scorn meet in an intelligent and funny story

The younger brother is in the first flush of an early romance and is incapable of foreseeing trouble.
The older brother has weathered the storm of a relationship's disastrous implosion and his view is tainted, causing him to anticipate a painful, inevitable end.
It is the older brother's inherent distrust of women which appears to drive much of his behavior and complicates the Thanksgiving weekend during which the film's events occur.
The college-years relationship is great material for stories. Up until this period in a people's lives, they've only known school. In spite of what they may think, their lives so far consist of a simple goal of getting good grades and into a good college. When the romance comes along, it's such a pleasant distraction and a much more interesting goal, yet it isn't entirely real, because it is still part of the one-focus life. They're still in school working toward the goal of graduating, only now together. Yet, because they are preoccupied with this goal, they are not yet tainted by the cynicism which comes with experience.
The Thanksgiving movie is an interesting sub-genre and "The Vicious Kind" is a finely blended dark comedy which bypasses the cutesy cliches of quirky family members and eccentric townspeople familiar to the holiday genre, while making intelligent observations on why people make their decisions and how events shape their lives.
Immediately, the film presents the older brother, Caleb (Adam Scott) as a misogynist by having him tell his younger brother Peter (Alex Frost) all women are whores. When Caleb includes Peter's girlfriend in this category, Peter asks him not to speak of her that way. Caleb then asks how Peter met his girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) and Peter says he met her at the dorm while she was visiting her boyfriend. Caleb then says sarcastically their relationship is off to a great start considering she cheated on her boyfriend to be with him.
Emma is visiting Peter's family for the weekend and Caleb is cold to Emma from the start and unleashes his anger and suspicion on her in a startling scene in which he confronts her in a grocery store and warns her sternly not to hurt Peter, threatening dire consequences if she fails to obey.
Instead of portraying Caleb as a misogynist without explanation, as if it were a lifestyle choice, "The Vicious Kind" offers a catalyst for his universal distrust and dislike of women, Emma included.
So many films present misogynistic characters and ask the viewers to hate them for the trait, but the screenplay by Lee Toland Krieger, who also directed, offers an objective look at Caleb and the events which formed his views. This isn't the simplistic black-and-white view typically offered in pop entertainment. The audience is left to decide whether his outlook is justified. This is the way it is with all the central characters in the film. Caleb doesn't have the sweet romance his brother has and instead visits a prostitute. It's a painful for him and the viewer because it's obvious he's only able to buy the company, but he doesn't get the sincere sweetness and honest affection his brother receives from Emma. Nobody can.
Scott's performance is excellent as he navigates seamlessly from an angry, volatile person to a timid, remorseful and soft figure whose eyes well up at emotional times. Following Caleb's confrontation with Emma, he cries and apologizes. After berating the prostitute when she refuses to answer a question, he then apologizes, tips her and says, "Have a good weekend."
The exchange is one of several moments of humor which blend well into the dramatic aspects of the story.
"The Vicious Kind" not only provides insightful looks at its characters, but also an intelligent and mature view of sexuality. In a key scene, Emma and Peter attempt to make love, but because he is inexperienced, it is awkward and it shows on both their faces. Rarely do films offer such honesty and frankness in a love scene. Snow proves herself to be one of her generation's most promising actresses. As she did in the wonderful and tragically overlooked film "Finding Amanda", Snow takes what might be a standard role and infuses her performance with depth and complexity.
As Emma spends time with the family she learns more about the history complicating the strained relationship of Caleb and his father, Donald.
By the end of the film, Emma and Donald learn a secret about the other, but neither is aware the other knows it. Meanwhile, Peter doesn't know either secret.
The question of whether people are better off knowing the truth, no matter how unsettling, looms long after the film concludes.
Donald (J.K. Simmons) says to Peter people sometimes make the wrong decision and can't explain why. "The Vicious Kind" honestly and effectively observes characters making decisions with potentially long-term repercussions.
It does so with an affection, understanding of its characters and a fierce honesty making it almost impossible to dislike anyone in the film, in spite of some deep personal flaws.




Thursday, May 27, 2010

Finding joy in the search for lost love

For anyone who's ever wondered what it would be like to reunite with a lost love, "Letters to Juliet" will provide a sweetly sentimental journey sure to have them leaving the theater feeling buoyant and cheerful. I felt all that and even had some sort of moisture pour from my eyes. All right, I'll admit I cried.
Hollywood romances often succeed based on whether the audience likes the characters and cares about their story. Amanda Seyfried, starring in her fourth movie in less than a year, plays Sophie, the fiancee of Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal).
The couple is supposed to be enjoying their pre-wedding vacation in Italy, but Victor is a passionate restauranteur and is busy spending his time visiting cheese and wine suppliers and attending a wine auction. This must happen in order to propel Sophie's part of the story, but it is distracting to be expected to believe someone would neglect Amanda Seyfried in favor of some Asiago.
While Victor's away, Sophie notices a group of women, some in tears, writing letters and leaving them taped to a wall outside. Intrigued by the site, she follows a woman who collects the letters in a basket. She learns the woman is part of a group called the Secretaries of Juliet, who take up the responsibility of responding to all the messages. Because the film is set mostly in Italy, Sophie is soon offered to stay for dinner and soon is joining the secretaries each day. Sophie finds a letter which rested inside the wall, hidden behind a brick for decades and decides to write to the woman who penned it in the summer of 1957.
This brings the letter's author, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her handsome young grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan) to Italy to find her long lost love. Because it's a movie, Charlie is British and has the dapper, "GQ"-reading appearance and charming accent to prove it. He of course, detests Sophie immediately, but the attraction between them soon becomes a focus of the story.
Describing "Letters to Juliet" doesn't sell the picture because it makes it sound like a dime a dozen romance only young people could enjoy. The truth is the movie is that rare and special film which, to use a film criticism cliche, will delight young and old alike.
I went to this movie hoping for a pleasant love story, but it exceeds expectations in the most important ways. Sure it has all the formula elements of these types of movies which typically turn me into a cynic. There is the lavish two-week trip to Italy, Sophie is a fact-checker at "The New Yorker", which satisfies the rule of a magazine employee in a romantic film and the two men Sohpie is involved with have accents, but these cliches make the movie even more endearing because I was so affected by the performances and story I didn't care about the imperfections at all.
What I did care about was seeing Claire finding Lorenzo after 50 years and when the two long-lost lovers are finally reunited it is a truly joyous moment. So joyous in fact, I didn't mind watching another movie outdoor wedding reception, because I was so happy for the characters involved.
Redgrave and Seyfried share an excellent scene in which Claire tells Sophie about her some of her favorite memories of her time with Lorenzo. She tells the story so convincingly viewers are likely to feel along with her and possibly recall their own youthful bliss.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ON DVD: A welcome glimpse of reality on a hard road to Alaska


The more I think about "Wendy and Lucy" the more I like and appreciate it.
Of several standout moments in the film, the one most affecting and telling takes place in a small, confined space. Confinement could describe Wendy's economic state, since she has few options available to her. Trying to make her way to Alaska from Indiana, she tries to start her car, which also serves as her domicile, one morning and it won't start. While waiting for the auto shop to open, Wendy tries to feed her small dog Lucy, but only a few morsels tumble out of the bag of food.
Wendy keeps a ledger, in which she tracks her spending. She is seen deducting items of modest amounts and writing how much she has left. She may have enough to make it to Alaska.
She leaves Lucy outside a grocery store and goes inside and is caught shoplifting dog food. The overzealous young employee who takes her to the manager's office is insistent she be made an example of. He has a condescending and simplistic mindset and says coldly, "People who can't afford dog food shouldn't have a dog."
After being arrested, Wendy tells the officer her dog is tied up at the storefront, but she's taken to the station without Lucy and when she returns, her dog is missing.
The scene mentioned earlier takes place following an encounter while sleeping outside in the woods, while her car is in the repair shop overnight, during which she is awakened by a man who rifles through her belongings. After rambling on about people he's killed, he finally leaves. Williams plays the scene in which the stranger speaks to her as realistically as one could imagine it and throughout Wendy is cocooned in her blanket, quiet except for a slight whimper of fear, but what comes next is powerful acting.
She collects her few belongings and runs to a bathroom at a gas station, where she cries. She begins sobbing loudly and then her crying becomes the type of silent crying reserved for times of extreme duress. Sometimes when misfortune hits, it slows people down but isn't enough to induce tears. Other times people don't have the energy within them to cry and in an early scene Wendy almost cried, but abstained. Other times it is the only option, a bizarre and cathartic exercise of twisted meditation in which the severity of the crying serves as a respite from the troubles sending the person there in the first place. Williams acts this scene flawlessly and she allows the audience to take this emotional journey too, and everyone, Wendy included, feel relieved afterward.
So many movies feature characters with privileged and affluent lives in which they have high-powered, high-paying jobs and the only major problem is finding the right person to complete their vision of "having it all." "The Backup Plan", "Leap Year" and "When in Rome" are a few recent examples of this unfortunate formula. The latter two are the most offensive since they involve trips to Ireland and Italy, respectively. In "Leap Year" Amy Adams' character travels to Ireland to propose to her boyfriend and in "When in Rome" Kristen Bell is there to participate in her sister's wedding. This is of course, because in a time of double-digit unemployment everyone has the means readily available to jet off somewhere on a whim.
"Wendy and Lucy" is one of the most important films I've seen in a long time. The world needs more writers like Jonathan Raymond, more directors like Kelly Reichardt and more films like this in order to give a voice and representation to frequently ignored societal norms.
The future for Wendy is uncertain at the movie's conclusion. It's possible she'll land on her feet someday or it's possible she'll join the ranks of the chronically homeless, who too many people view as the result of a lack of personal responsibility. "Wendy and Lucy" wisely stays away from assigning any reason to Wendy's situation. The audience knows only where she is headed and that she maintains some communication with her sister, but not there is no specific event in her history provided. To do so would risk politicizing the movie and dividing the audience into groups blaming Wendy or blaming some aspect of society for her hardship. Just as nobody can explain the circumstances leading up to a stranger's homelessness, the audience can't pass judgment on Wendy. As a result, the story focuses on her struggle and only the hardest of hearts won't feel for her.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On DVD: A true story of true love


While watching "Heavenly Creatures" I became aware of a feeling and a mindset which both eluded me for so long I'd almost forgotten them.
It's a testament to the film's ability to vividly portray emotion that a viewer can watch what's on the screen, have something buried inside them stirred and then think to themselves, "I remember that."
The "that" I refer to is a period of time during youth in which all the complexities of the world are pushed aside as one is enveloped in a warm, safe and blissful blanket of infatuation. It's unlikely anyone inside this blanket looks at the future because they're so enthralled with the present and when the future is glimpsed, it is only happy and perfect, the way life is now. Nobody in this state imagines their world changing for anything but the best, and when something inevitably interrupts, threatens or even ends this personal utopia, it is devastating, crushing and bleak. "Heavenly Creatures" is a story of what two people did when their utopia was endangered.
Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey portray the real-life lovers Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, who in 1954 New Zealand murdered Parker's mother because she stood in the way of their togetherness.
Winslet is now one of the industry's most revered and consistently successful actresses and the skill and truth she brings to her roles is evident in this, her first film.
Upon introduction in the film, Winslet is plucky and energetic, the light to Lynskey's brooding Parker. The two soon form a close and inseparable bond, which causes consternation and later fear as Juliet's father recommends a specialist for Pauline to visit because he's concerned an unhealthy relationship is forming. After consulting with Pauline, the specialist reluctantly and with trepidation tells her mother she may be a homosexual.
He appears to have great difficulty saying the word, which is more pushed out of his mouth than spoken.
When the girls are together, they venture into fantasy sequences and through the magic of special effects, their minds take them to a personal Utopia.
It is during these sequences the movie wavers slightly by veering off course from the central story of the girls. Yes, the sequences are meant to visually represent the joy and wonder the two feel together, but the scenes of clay figurines come to life are not necessary and eventually grow tiresome, stalling the story rather than enriching it.
Winslet does a superb job of inhabiting the role of Juliet and is thoroughly convincing as being so enamored with her companion she cannot fathom a meaningful existence without her.
The girls' parents do not understand their attachment and with the experience of age view this impending separation as a bump in the road of life, while to the girls it's the end of everything worth living for. An affecting scene has the two girls on the phone with each other, sobbing and trying to figure out a way to stay together. I found myself genuinely moved and the two actresses are perfect together in this wrenching moment.
It doesn't reveal a secret to write the true story's conclusion is not a happy one and when it comes tot he brutal conclusion it is shocking and gasp-inducing.
"Heavenly Creatures" is wonderfully unique, love story worthy of being seen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A few kinks to iron out


While Iron Man 2 has much of the same type of excitement and witty charm from Robert Downey Jr. as its predecessor, there is a lengthy section in the middle, devoid of action, which hits the theater with a thud off dullness.
This, along with a foible among many comic-book movie sequels of trying to fit in too many characters and therefore not having the time to adequately address them, makes for a film leaving the audience wanting more, but only because there isn’t a large enough helping to begin with.
Downey is perfect in the role and despite playing Tony Stark as a self-absorbed playboy, manages to maintain the character’s likeability and when he’s onscreen it’s a delight. The supporting cast is strong too, as Mickey Rourke plays Whiplash with a quiet, reserved menace, speaking only when necessary and plotting revenge against Stark in between. Scarlett Johansson smolders as Black Widow, a stealthy secret agent in the employ of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who appeared briefly following the end credits of Iron Man. Sam Rockwell is a blast in another one of his signature sleazy roles as an arms dealer trying to duplicate the Iron Man technology for military use. Jackson’s appearance in the film appears to be two-fold. First, it continues to lay the groundwork for an upcoming superhero movie called The Avengers and the other is to allow him to engage in one of his patented banter sequences. Across the table from Stark in a diner, he speaks in his loud-voiced, hyperbolic intonation, which was funny and unique years back, but is now in the realm of self-parody. I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation because the scene serves more as an unintended distraction than a propelling of the story. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Stark’s most trusted confidante and Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who later dons a specialized suit and becomes War Machine. None of the characters are entirely unnecessary, but with so many of them, they aren’t allowed to thrive. When Johansson finally is allowed to demonstrate Black Widow’s hand-to-hand combat skill during the film’s climactic sequence, it is exciting, but is too little too late.
This isn’t to say Iron Man 2 is an overall disappointing experience, but it does leave one with the feeling it could have been so much more.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Darkness muddies the water


It's difficult to know if a filmmmaker or screenwriter intends for their comedies to be dark and depressing, but "Hot Tub Time Machine" is the latest such film to cause one to ponder whether this question.
The premise is amusing enough since sending three friends back in time to the 1980s provides the opportunity to present the always entertaining '80s fashions and pop culture sensations: Miami Vice!, Alf!, hair bands! For a while once the friends and Adam's nephew are discovering when they are, there are some funny jokes, but the film quickly descends into an unpleasant atmosphere.
To begin with, the drug use of the characters, Adam in particular, is played for laughs, but is indeed rather unsettling. In the '80s they evidently are quite the heads and upon discovering Adam's briefcase full of enough narcotics to fund a small war, they dig in. Later when Cusack is wallowing in self pity, his nephew discovers him drunk, taking long drags from a bong, eating mushrooms and Cusack almost snorts cocaine, but his nephew intervenes.
In addition to the rampant drug use, there is seemingly more alcohol in this movie than at Oktoberfest. It would be all right if the drinking were just part of a rowdy guys' weekend, but it goes beyond that and instead the boozing is so heavy, constand and casual, it becomes distracting and sad. For example, after Lou (Rob Corddry) is identified as an alcoholic, he continues to drink excessively and in the presence of his friends, who do nothing to stop him and join in. What kind of friends are these?
What helped make "The Hangover" such a fun movie, besides its hilarious screenplay, was a central cast of characters who were all likeable. The characters in "Hot Tub" aren't villains, but they don't seem like the type of guys who would be fun to spend time with. The characters' dilemmas are interesting because they are all situations people could see themselves in ... except the storyline involving the nephew, which mirrors "Back to the Future." The scenes involving reflections on where or when the characters' lives took a wrong turn and whether they can use their time in the past to improve them are among the movie's best.
None of the men are happy in terms of their romantic lives (if they have one) and Adam, who is jilted by his lover at the start of the film, is given the chance to do things right by meeting a cute journalist named April ("Party Down's" Lizzy Caplan) while trying to retrace his steps in 1986. He first resists her becase hi is afraid of affecting the future by altering the past, but eventually he decides it could be a good idea to spend some time with her. This coupling, unfortunately is trite because she is the same fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants female to his overly cautious, play-it-safe male featured in countless films ("Along Came Polly," "A Guy Thing," "Yes Man"), but her character does spark a longing for the better days of journalism. She is at the ski resort in 1986 covering a concert for "Spin" 'magazine and during a scene in which the two share a deep conversation, a present-day journalist's mind is inclined to wander and long for a time in which reporters had a world of possibility ahead of them and more value was put on a story about a concert by an actual journalist than some juvenile Tweet or blog by someone who thinks "Belle du Jour" is the soup of the day. It would be wonderful for the reporters of today who were laid off to be able to jump into time machines of their own and travel to a time when their talents and skills are appreciated and revered, rather than viewed as antiquated and quaint. This is a good idea for a spinoff featuring the journalist. Perhaps it could be called "Laptop Time Machine" and journalists could be sucked into the days of journalistic greatness via their monitors. There are seeds of a sweet romantic story between Adam and April, but the film doesn't let it materialize and soon returns to its darker and more depressing nature. The darkest aspect of the movie is a repeated attempt to elicit laughter at the expense of a character who the audience and characters know loses an arm between 1986 and the present. Lou shows a sociopathic side as he eagerly watches the man escape a series of near-accidents involving a chainsaw and an elevator door and is disappointed when he maintains his limb. For anyone who thinks it's fun to watch someone lose an arm, he eventually has it ripped off by a passing snowplow and picks it up with his remaining arm as blood spurts from the shoulder and Lou cheers with excitement. Once the film concludes in present day, the arm is reattached but the discomfort from watching something concocted by such callous filmmakers remains.

Monday, March 29, 2010

She'll fulfill your dreams ... for a price


Although nothing new is featured in “Chloe,” the latest entry in the sexual thriller genre, it is stylish, fascinating and shocking.
Amanda Seyfried stars as the titular character, a prostitute who is hired by a woman named Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) who suspects her husband of cheating.
Chloe is instructed to tempt the woman’s husband, played by Liam Neeson and then report to the wife about their activities together. At first it is unclear whether Stewart’s intention is to discover whether Neeson will respond to Chloe’s affections or if she wants to hear the specifics of the sexual encounter for another reason, but her decision to hire Chloe sends a major jolt through their marriage.
The two female leads are puzzling and interesting characters. Moore is a woman who is in a dry period both romantically and sexually. She’s a gynecologist who when describing to one of her patients what an orgasm is, says it’s just a series of muscle contractions and is nothing magical. She isn’t sure how she got to this passionless place or how to get out. She is certain she wants to rediscover her passion and Chloe helps awaken this realization and expedite the process.
The actresses are both excellent in their roles and well cast. Moore is sultry as a woman experiencing a midlife crisis brought on by her suspicions of infidelity. Her feelings of inadequacy are perhaps unfounded, since Moore, at 49, is an impressively alluring woman. At times the movie is not so much an exploration of marital dissatisfaction as a celebration of the feminine mystique.
In keeping with this theme, details of feminine appeal are emphasized throughout the film. Moore applies lipstick as the camera focuses on her parted lips. During one encounter with Chloe, she pauses after getting a waft of the scent of her perfume. She asks Chloe what it is and she then rubs some on her hand. Scenes of Moore running across the street wearing high-heeled shoes provides a view of her shapely calves, giving a subtle hint of sex in an everyday situation.
Chloe wears clothing with an accent on the material and how it feels. Her outfits are often of fur or of a lightweight fabric which flows breezily against her skin. In the bedroom scenes Chloe is shown in a tasteful fashion and images of her body are revealed in brief glances, the way a partner might undress herself in a tender moment.
“Chloe” is a fascinating exploration of the pleasures and pratfalls of human sexuality and is satisfying in every way.

Skeletons in the closet and a ghost as a writer


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently sat before a committee defending his decision to involve British troops in the U.S.-led Iraq war.
At times during the questioning people became noticeably upset and voices were raised.
The new political thriller "The Ghost Writer" puts the fictional former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan, in the position of being the target of an investigation into allegations of war crimes stemming from his involvement in the rendition and torture of suspected terrorists.
One of the many praises earned by director Roman Polanski, who adapted his novel into the screenplay, with Polanski, is the tapestry woven by a thriller with threads of recent world events and an artful handling of the genre.
As Polanski skillfully succeeded in movies like "Frantic," he creates a world in which it's not only unwise to trust most people, but potentially lethal. This is evidenced in the opening sequence which shows an empty vehicle on a ferry after the other cars are unloaded. The man who drove the car onto the ferry is next shown washed up on the beach. A writer reluctantly takes a meeting with a publishing company which is looking to replace the man who was working on Lange's memoirs. Ewan McGregor plays the writer with an almost sneering detachment from politics. He soon travels to Lang's waterfront property in the states and is given a copy of the manuscript containing the story of the Prime Minister's life, which is kept in a securely locked drawer.
As he arrives, the story of Lang's possible involvement escalates and the uncertainty regarding the extent of Lang's involvement in illegal activity provides much of the film's narrative enjoyment. Like any political figure of significance, Lang is a friend and hero to some and a vile, war-mongering murderer to others. Protesters who want him convicted rally outside the gates of his property and one even sets up camp outside similar to the protester Cindy Sheehan, who camped outside President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. This is one of several specific references to the Iraq war. The U.S. president in the film is not mentioned by name, but one character asks why the prime minister went and got himself mixed up with that fool in the White House.
To go into the specifics of the plot would be cheating the audience out of a great experience. Beyond providing an engrossing political mystery, “The Ghost Writer” immerses the audience in the world of a power figure whose decisions cost lives. It is an intelligent look at not only the toll it takes on the people of his country, but also his wife, who stands by him, but doesn’t always like the consequences of the life of a politician’s wife.
The public may never know the motivations of their politicians or the effect of their involvement in shadowy activities, and after watching “The Ghost Writer” viewers are uncertain of Lang’s motivations. This uncertainty does nothing to diminish the satisfying experience of the Prime Minister’s story.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rocking hard and falling harder


Watching The Runaways is likely to make anyone born after the 1970s rock era wish they could hop in a time machine and experience some of it firsthand.
That the music, including infectious song "Cherry Bomb" is only part of the appeal, speaks volumes about the film. If the skillful concert-sequence direction by Floria Sigismondi and the raucous onstage performances by Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie are half as exciting as actually being there then it's a mystery why the band wasn't bigger success, although a standard rock and roll descent into drugs contributed to the group's unraveling.
From the beginning it's obvious the band is headed for such trouble, since Jett is seen huffing something out of a bag while sitting on the pavement at night and the girls drink liquor from a squirt gun. High School Musical this is not.
While much of the publicity leading up to the film's release focused on Stewart who is the film's biggest star thanks to her role as Bella Swan in the Twilight series, the movie belongs to Fanning, who plays the band member whose memoir Neon Angel is the source material for the screenplay. Neither the director nor Fanning, or even the costume designer pull any punches and Currie is portrayed as a girl who is growing up too fast, but still has reservations about her budding sexuality. That is until an aggressive music producer named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) spots her in a club one night while looking for a sexed up front-runner for the group.
Once offered a position in the band, Currie auditions and Fowley asks her to sing a lyric from her signature song Cherry Bomb, which, not being old enough to drive, she finds too sexually charged. He threatens to send her away, but Jett coaxes her into it and she is soon belting out the song with the confidence and enthusiasm of a veteran temptress. This is the catalyst of the self-destruction which as true for many starts, almost ends her young existence. The requisite sex and drugs receive slightly too much attention to the point of redundancy, but it's the rock and roll which is the film's backbone and fuels it throughout. Inhabiting the lives of the hard-partying, hard-rocking young stars gives Fanning and Stewart an opportunity to abandon their familiar images and they don't squander the opportunity. Stewart has the narrower of the two gaps to bridge, since she already plays guitar, smokes cigarettes and was captured by paparazzi taking a drag of what appeared to be marijuana. There is none of Stewart's coyness from her Twilight performances in The Runaways and she is entirely convincing as she shreds on her guitar, sometimes so deep in the performance she hunches over the instrument with a facial expression and stance which seem to indicate she is ready to pounce on the crowd. While Fanning had a small role as an evil vampire in New Moon she is best known for her younger roles as cute and squeaky clean girls in films including Uptown Girls. Here she takes her childhood image, shatters it like a vase and steps on the pieces. Fanning is surprisingly sexual in the film and the fact she's only 16 (albeit the approximate age of Currie at the time the story is set) makes for some discomfort as she poses in her underwear for a magazine shoot and later cavorts in a bustier with thigh-high leggings, but perhaps this is the intention.
The Runaways does not break new ground in the biopic genre, but it succeeds at telling a classic story of rise, fall and redemption amidst a thrilling atmosphere of high-energy lifestyle and thrashing music.

The Runaways is rated R for strong language, sexual situations, drug use and debauchery.