Return to Cherie Currie
Joan Jett biopic raises eyebrows

Last Updated: 25th January 2010, 2:59pm

PARK CITY, Utah — Punk pioneer Joan Jett is “no kiss-and-teller.”

Not so discreet: The Runaways, the biographical film about the 1970s all-girl rock band, which has Kristen Stewart’s Jett and Dakota Fanning’s Cherie Currie making out in a roller rink.

The scene, which begs to scandalize Twilighters, isn’t the only reason The Runaways will get plenty of attention. But you can be sure it will be a major talking point as its March release date nears.

While Jett is coy about whether the bisexual romance on-screen was real or fabricated — “The Runaways never played a roller rink,” she responds with a smile — Currie is more forthcoming.

“We loved each other as friends. Back then, Bowie had just come out. So had Elton John. And that was the groovy thing to do. Back then, there was this bisexuality thing that was going down and, hey, why not?”

That the real-life rockers’ friendship endures — they reconciled more than a decade ago — is a minor miracle considering the volatility of their adolescence, vividly portrayed in Canadian director Floria Sigismondi’s electrifying, in-your-face account of attitude, ambition and self-destruction.

At 15, Currie, the child of an alcoholic father, was discovered by record producer and musical Svengali Kim Fowley (habitual scene-hijacker Michael Shannon) in a Los Angeles nightclub in 1975. He immediately drafted her to be the lead singer of a band he’d assembled featuring Joan Jett, a tough, blunt-edged 16-year-old guitarist.

The group, The Runaways, would quickly become both the subject of ridicule (“jailbait rock” critics hissed) and infamy.

As is usually the case, they burned up before they had barely begun, disintegrating in 1979 after four years of drugs, sex, booze, personality clashes and Fowley’s manipulations. As energetic as the film — based partly on Currie’s 1989 memoir Neon Angel — is, the world it paints is also merciless, hardened and grim.

“It wasn’t easy,” says 51-year-old Jett, who would go on to fame as a solo artist. “People think, ‘Yeah, I want to be a rock star. I’ll get in a band, cut my hair and do this.’ But it’s tough ... Grim? Sometimes life is grim. But there is the message that sometimes the underdog can win.”

And Jett had no qualms about revisiting three-decade-old demons. She was on the set constantly during production last year in Los Angeles, and is credited as an executive producer. “I’m excited that people who knew about The Runaways will get a chance to get reacquainted, and the people who had no idea about us will get a chance to discover it.”

To that end, the film’s commercial prospects are undoubtedly bolstered by the presence of Stewart, 19, and Fanning, 15, whose slavishly-devoted Twilight fanbase is predominantly teenaged and female — a demo primed to respond to the theme of empowerment.

What does Jett think of Stewart’s performance?

“It’s hard for me to look at myself and judge myself from the outside. But I thought she had a quiet intensity. But also, she had a lot of the physical stuff down — my mannerisms. Just in real life, we’re a lot alike. If you saw the two of us sitting around, just how we move in space is a lot alike. It was funny to watch that happen. But also, she’d watch my posture, everything, my facial expressions. I have some funny stances she’d copy. She tried to get it all.”