When Dakota Fanning took to the stage in tight glam-star corset and fishnet stockings, and Kristen Stewart appeared in a shiny red leather jumpsuit slinging an electric guitar, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett were jolted 35 years into the past.
And they wept. This was only a movie set, and those were actresses up there in the lights. But Currie and Jett were experiencing something way beyond deja vu, watching their teenage selves at the height of their stardom and the end of their innocence in The Runaways. And the fact that Fanning was really singing like Currie and Stewart was really playing like Jett as they ripped through The Runaways’ biggest teen-rebellion hit, "Cherry Bomb,” only deepened the emotional time-warp sensation. "Oh my god, when Joan and I saw them shooting the Japan stuff, we sat there and cried,” Currie said in a phone interview this week from a publicity tour stop in Portland, Ore. The Runaways were big in Japan, where they embarked on a legendarily successful tour in the summer of ’77, but a Los Angeles location was standing in for the Land of the Rising Sun when Currie and Jett sat in an audience of cheering extras, watching a concert scene being shot for "The Runaways,” the new biopic based on Currie’s tell-all memoir, "Neon Angel,” about the controversial "jailbait” band that blazed a trail for every hard-rocking, all-female group that would follow. "It was like being in the audience back in the ’70s,” Currie said of her experience on the set. "We were just up there doing the best we could do. We had no time, nor could we conceive what we were doing at the time. So it was like, ‘Wow, what a visual gas this is.’” Writer-director Floria Sigismondi’s version of The Runaways’ story — like Currie’s — is a shocking one of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll and celebrity that came too suddenly and too soon to a group of naive adolescent girls from Los Angeles under the questionable adult supervision of manager, producer and shameless hype-meister Kim Fowley (played with brilliantly lizardlike loathsomeness by Michael Shannon). Raised in the San Fernando Valley and inspired by the music and image of David Bowie, Currie was only 15 when she was approached in a North Hollywood teen club by Fowley, who already had corralled Jett (born Joan Larkin) and drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) with the intent of assembling what he called a "jailbait rock” band. It’s a gritty coming-of-age story bathed in the harsh light of public scrutiny, and a frank, intimate study of the love-hate relationship between Jett and Currie and their struggle to live up to their tough-girl image and simply survive the wild ride in a male-dominated rock ’n’ roll world. Currie says the film sticks reasonably close to the way it all really happened, except for a few "creative liberties” such as a scene in which her Bowie impersonation gets her booed off the stage at a high school talent show. In reality, she won that contest. "There are some things that I think could have added to the film, but I’ve got my book so, you know, I can live with it,” she said.