Thursday, March 18, 2010

Exploding Girls

Where it begins: Teenagers Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) meet—where else?—in an L.A. club.

The Runaways
Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Michael Shannon

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

“Hello, Daddy / Hello, Mom / I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!” With those words—half-talked, half-sung—the 16-year-old, bottle-blonde Cherie Currie introduced to the world a revolutionary kind of girl group, the Runaways. Her partner in grime and grit, Joan Jett, had started the band in 1975 with drummer Sandy West, under the demented aegis of Kim Fowley, a record producer whose idea of rock ’n’ roll was blood, guts, and sex. To Jett (who’d changed her name of Larkin) it was more—“It is my life,” she says to a disillusioned Currie after the Runaways have wowed the teens of Japan (a “Hello Sex Kitten” to rival the recently launched “Hello Kitty”).

The Runaways, executive-produced by Jett, starts off a little slowly setting things up—though the opening image is appropriately primal—but then gets nearly everything right: the clubs, the clothes, the songwriting, the drugs, the sex (especially a hallucinatory scene involving Currie and Jett). And the music. Both Kristen Stewart, as Jett, and Dakota Fanning (wasn’t she just yesterday a little girl?), as Currie, look and sound authentic when they hit the stage. Fanning even learned Currie’s signature wrapping-the-mic-around-the-leg move, as she demonstrated for Jimmy Fallon last night, though, judging from the video below, the real Currie was a bit more like a jaded kid you’d pass in the mall than the fresh-faced Fanning. Stewart, in black leather, brings to the role of Jett the right body type and the right attitude: a tough and slightly disinterested exterior that belies the fire inside that will turn Jett into one of rock’s greats.

With the Blackhearts, Jett, of course, went on to make such hard-driving hits as “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”; Lita Ford—the Runaways’ lead guitarist, who gets short shrift in the film (perhaps because it’s based on Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel)—spent years raising kids on a Caribbean island before barreling back last year with Wicked Wonderland; and Cherie Currie, whose career was derailed by addiction, is today a ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-chainsaw artist! Just keep setting off those bombs, girls.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ivy League

On the rooftop: Best friends Al (Mark Rendall) and Ivy (Zoe Kazan) watch a flock of pigeons take flight.

The Exploding Girl
Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray
Starring Zoe Kazan and Mark Rendall

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

This is not a movie that explodes—which is fine, since we have more than enough of those. The titular “exploding girl” of the film, Ivy (Zoe Kazan), who has epilepsy, wanders the downtown streets of New York with cell phone always in hand. On vacation from college, both she and her best friend, Al (Mark Rendall), are staying with her mother (Maryann Urbano). Although both her mom and Al care for her almost to the point of coddling, Ivy seems to need to talk to her boyfriend, Greg, who’s apparently in another town, almost constantly. It’s clear from the beginning, however, that Greg does not feel the same involvement. Why Ivy needs to hide this from those who love her is not so clear, but watch Kazan’s face as she sits with Al, not telling him—the most active and mesmerizing silence I think I’ve ever seen; I felt as though I were being pulled into the screen. (The lack of music only intensifies the scene.) Kazan’s Everygirl looks, with chipmunk cheeks (“She’s so cute!” a woman behind me at the screening kept squealing), only add to the film’s naturalism.

This is a movie that takes its time. When Ivy cries as Al holds her, we, as he, simply have to wait for her. And because it’s Kazan, we do. Kazan, is, by the way, the granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan, and writer-director Bradley Rust Gray includes a lovely homage to On the Waterfront, when Al—whose interest in Ivy goes beyond their friendship—takes Ivy to see pigeons being kept on a rooftop.

Aside from the pigeons and a couple of parties, not a lot happens in this film, and I’m not sure it could have been a film without Zoe Kazan—Gray has said that as soon as he imagined the character of Ivy, he thought of Kazan—but perhaps that’s irrelevant: It’s a delicate work, restrained and rewarding, as long as you, like Al, have some patience.