In 'Foxes' and 'Light of Day,' the real Cherie Currie and Joan Jett revealed more about themselves than 'The Runaways' does

currie-jettImage Credit: Everett CollectionA number of readers have ripped me for writing an entire review of The Runaways in which I somehow failed to include a single word about Dakota Fanning’s performance. You’re right, point taken, I should have. All right, here goes: She was perfectly okay. Actually, when I realized that I’d written the review that way, I just figured that I’d let my lack of comment on Fanning’s performance stand as an implicit statement that there wasn’t all that much to say about it. She’s quite the critics’ darling these days — always has been, really — but to me, Dakota Fanning, as she’s grown up, has turned into a slightly odd actress, luminous and emotionally delicate but also passive and a bit spaced. She’s gifted, but as a presence she’s not all there.

In The Runaways, she plays Cherie Currie as a put-upon nice girl who worships David Bowie (and gets pelted with wads of paper at school for it!), then learns how to snarl and cock her body on stage like a real punk she-devil. Yet somehow, through all the drugs and girl fights and bleary, sleepless tour dates and leering of the boys in the audience and abuse piled upon her by the group’s domineering packager-producer-manager-Svengali-tormenter, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), Cherie manages to retain the wispy essence of her wayward-ingenue innocence. Fanning has one good scene near the end where Cherie is blasted on drugs and tries, without any luck, to purchase a bottle of liquor; her slovenly, impotent fury at the sales people is startling. But up until then, Fanning’s competent, rather wan acting fits all too neatly into the film’s pious, slightly sanitized vision of Cherie Currie as a sweetly alienated, emotionally neglected Los Angeles girl who got put through a pop-culture meat grinder.

Yes, that’s kind of what happened, but if we really want to be progressive (and truthful) about it, let’s also give the members of the Runaways credit for being the young women they chose to be, even if they were just babe-in-the-urban-woods teenagers. From all the sources I’ve encountered (including the memoir on which the movie is based), the real Cherie Currie was, and still is, a pistol, a girl who got herself into heaps of trouble because she eagerly sought it out. Please understand, I’m not “blaming the victim.” I’m just trying to talk about what girls like Cherie really went through back in the late ’70s, when having a wild time without taking responsibility for it was the unholy hedonistic essence of the sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle.

In The Runaways, Fowley teaches Cherie how to sing “Cherry Bomb,” and within minutes she’s performing it with a teasing sneer, but the whole point is that it’s almost like a mime act; she’s going through the motions of bad-girl defiance. The real Cherie Curry really was a cherry bomb. You can see that in any of the actual footage of the band (I recommend the pretty good, though hardly definitive, 2004 documentary Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways), but you can also see it if you go back and watch her performance in Foxes, the 1980 Hollywood drama about four high-school girls in Los Angeles that gave Currie what turned out to be her first and last shot at mainstream stardom.

I remember that when I first I saw Foxes, the debut feature of director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Flashdance), I thought that in its glossy and rather melodramatic way it seemed to channel the declarative first blast of a new generation. When I saw it again the other night, that feeling was still there. It’s really one of the very first, very early Gen-X movies (the true first one, to me, is 1978’s terrific Over the Edge), and I was struck all over again by the freshness of what it captured: these four prematurely jaded adolescent girls, led by Jodie Foster as the sensible one, living like baby adults, cut off from their parents and the past, bonded only by attitude, consumerism, and the pop-culture decadence they share. (At times, it’s like Sex and the City: The Teenage Years.) It’s no accident that Foxes is set in Los Angeles. The movie is about what were, at the time, “Los Angeles values” — the obsession with fashion, money, buffed bodies, and a certain kind of clued-in clique-ish status — and how they were starting to become the new American values.

Currie plays Annie, the fast-lane hellion of the lot, and an obvious gloss on her own persona. (That cherry tattoo on her shoulder fits right in, as does her evil-angel porn-star hair.) In her first scene, she’s asleep after a night of partying; her friends have to wake her out of a heavy drug stupor by throwing a glass of water in her face. And for Annie (whose father, a cop, wants to send her to a mental institution), it’s all downhill from there. But what a vibrant, instinctive, and knowing performance Cherie Currie gives! Cherie, seen up close, is an extraordinarily pretty girl, with glittering Bambi-on-a-bender eyes and a lewd smile that lines her face with dimples, but she also has a ghostly pallor. She makes Annie a troubled pleasure-seeker who’s 15 going on 42. She’s not without brains, but she can’t see past the next moment, the next guy on a motorcycle.

It would be silly to say that what we’re seeing in Foxes is the “real” Cherie Currie; the movie is a work of fiction. But the hook of her performance is that it plays, knowingly, off her image and captures a version of what her life, under different circumstances, might possibly have become. She projects an intoxicating, slightly sordid hunger that lights up the screen, and it’s that avidness, I think, that expresses something of Currie herself.

Light of Day, a 1987 blue-collar rock & roll fable written and directed by Paul Schrader, is now a hard movie to find (I had to dig up and watch a copy on VHS, which really made it feel like something from the ’80s). But it’s a better film than I remember. At the time, when I wrote about it for the Boston Phoenix, I sort of mocked the pairing of Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett (together again!), as a factory-worker brother and ne’er-do-well sister who play in the same go-nowhere Cleveland bar band, performing boozy sets for a sliver of the door take. But Fox, cast dramatically against type, is actually pretty good (at least, once you get past the pufffy mane of ’80s dude hair that makes his frame look even tinier), and Jett, in the role of a woefully dysfunctional single mom who lives for rock & roll because she feels like she’s got nothing else, does something tricky and touching. She turns this character, and the whole movie, really, into a pitiless goodbye to — forgive the Casey Kasem-ism — “the rock era.”

In Light of Day, Joan Jett looks astoundingly beautiful and serene, with a gritty, Jane-six-pack side that comes out mostly in her voice, with its hint of gravel. Like most rock stars, she’s not really a very expressive actor. There are a lot of scenes in which she holds back and doesn’t fully show you what’s going on inside. Yet Jett, like Currie in Foxes, is playing a kind of cautionary version of what she might have become, and she does so, if not with great technique, then with bone-deep conviction. The character, who’s a flake and, at times, an inept petty criminal, is still reeling in protest against the strictures of her conservative religious mom (Gena Rowlands, who’s quite sympathetic), and Jett shows you what rock & roll delinquency looks like when it has gone past its expiration date. Light of Day is really a family drama in which a leather-jacketed black sheep learns that her true place is back with the flock. That’s not a rock & roll message, but it’s one that Joan Jett makes you believe because, by then, perhaps, she understood it herself.

So who out there has seen Foxes or Light of Day? Or, for that matter, The Runaways? How do you think the first two hold up? And do you believe that either Cherie Currie or Joan Jett could, or should, have been movie stars?

Comments (50 total) Add your comment
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  • Kim

    I saw Foxes years ago, when it first came out on videotape. I think that Cherie Currie had an amazing performance – she certainly held her own against Jodie Foster.

  • deeannek

    Ok, I will admit to seeing two of the three movies. I saw Foxes and Light of Day but not Runaways. I remember seeing Foxes at the Drive-In (I miss Drive-Ins) I was still a teen and I remember thinking it was one of the most depressing movies I had ever seen and then I saw Light of Day-also found it depressing too. Both of these movies sucked all the joy out of Rock-N-Roll. I thought both Joan Jett and Cherie Currie were good and I am surprised that they didn’t do more movies. They both had a decent cult following and pretty much everyone I knew had a Runaways album but I have to say and I can only speak for people I ran around with-they Jett and Curried were just ok–They thought Lita Ford was the true rocker in the group.

  • cmed

    I saw Light of Day (btw springsteen song). Packed theater and everyone clapped at rousing ending. Film did not get its due.

  • couchgrouch

    Owen, you’re waaaay overthinking what is just a rock n roll movie. Walk the Line would never stand up to that kind of scrutiny. and dude, what does this even MEAN?
    “slightly odd actress, luminous and emotionally delicate but also passive and a bit spaced. She’s gifted, but as a presence she’s not all there.” that’s just more pretentious critic’s bullarkey that’s meaningless. sounds like you’ve been reading Jewel’s poetry. Sandra Bullock just won an Oscar for a real life story that’s mostly faked in her movie. and you’re hassling The Runaways?!
    will I enjoy the movie…that’s all I care about.

    • Melissa

      I don’t see anything wrong with what he wrote. It’s perfectly understandable. And what’s wrong with taking a movie like The Runaways seriously? “Just tell me if it’s fun.” Yeah, you’re a moron!

      • couchgrouch

        what Owen wrote decribes nothing and could apply to any actress or none of them. biopics are never exacting with the facts so dissecting them is pointless unless they paint a completely dishonest view. if you feel that’s moronic, that’s ok with me.

    • Johnification

      Have you ever read an Owen Gleiberman review? This sort of intellectual analysis is what he does (and Lisa, too). If you’re looking for a popcorn-quality review, go to AICN or something. Come to EW for something a little deeper.

    • Johnification

      Oh and FYI, in the first paragraph of his review he describes the movie as “highly watchable”, so he answered your question almost immediately! If that’s all you wanted, you should have stopped there!

    • Mrs. A

      LOL..LOVE that couchgrouch! You’re so right on…Jewel’s poetry. what the heck does that stuff mean anyway?…:o)

    • Ethan

      I think that’s a pretty solid description of Fanning’s ability – she does look glassy and impenetrable. I think it’s quite clear what he’s talking about, and he’s describing it accurately. Remember that it’s ok for a critic to have a well-formed opinion which you disagree with.

  • Sam

    “Light of Day” has an interesting story. Paul Schrader contacts Springsteen about scoring a film he was thinking about called “Born in the USA.” Of course, Springsteen used the title for a song, and later on he offered to either allow Schrader to use the song for free or he would write a brand new one. Of course, Schrader chose a new one, and Springsteen wrote “Light of Day.” The song has been a staple in Springsteens shows for years, and traditionally closes the shows, taking over the slot previously owned by “Rosalita.”

  • Stephanie T.

    I saw both Light of Day and Foxes. Wssn’t Cherie nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance of Annie? She should have been.

    Kim Fowley was a washed up Glam rocker with an album that went no where in the States/turned record producer, Lita was the hard rocker of the band (Kiss Me Deadly), Cherie was the glam kitten, Joan was the in your face rocker who did pretty well with her band The Black Hearts in the early-mid eighties, and Vicki Blue turned pop rocker with The Bangles.

    • Bill S.

      Foxes was AWESOME! Cheri was the best one in it! She should have done more films. Have not seen the others.

      And hey, Steph. You got the wrong Vicki linked with the Bangles. Vicki Blue did not work with them. It was Vicki Peterson.

  • Nathan

    “Foxes” was (and remains) one of all time favorite movies. Even Scott Baio is good in it…but Cherie Currie was definitely the stand out “star” of it. I was a big fan of the Runaways when they first came out. I think after “Waiting for the Night” came out and Cherie was gone, I lost alot of interest in them. Do I plan on seeing the movie? Probably..but not until it hits DVD. I am happy to see they’re getting some respect these days. I never will forget picking up a copy of “Creem” magazine and reading a review of “Queens of Noise” that started out by saying “These bitches suck…”.

  • Scott

    I loved Light Of Day. Haven’t seen it in years. But I remember really enjoying Joan Jett and was stunned at how beautiful she actually is.

  • Sue1

    I’ve seen Foxes and Light of Day, and enjoyed them both. Currie and Jett gave strong and believable performances, both could have easily continued with acting careers. I have always felt a lack of connection to and from Dakota Fanning as well.

  • Bob

    Being slightly younger than Currie or Jett, I do remember seeing and being aware of who they were, when these films were released. I have revisited Foxes a couple of years ago and can echo your feelings about it. I would add maybe it held a touch of nostalgia for me as well. I feel if it was something she really wanted to pursue, then we would have seen more of her. I can only guess, life, motherhood and perhaps just having to endure so much “LA crap” at such a young age, that the “baby was not so cute” anymore. I think it is telling in the fact that she didnt pursue it more. Perhaps she grew up quickly and wasnt as maladjusted as we may have thought at the time. Jett, has always been a pleasure to see on the screen, but again I think she was a product of the same experience. She seemed to pursue projects that interested her but never gave up on what was her first love. She has never stopped touring or producing records since the Runaways broke up.

  • Katie23

    I think every single article, premeir etc has all been Much Ado about nothing which really describes Kristen Stewart’s worth period. You talk about the hedonistic lifestyle of the 70’s I think it’s was better than the narcissistic lifestyle of Kristen. Did anyone notice she started putting out a justifier yesterday saying her generation doesn’t get Joan Jett. Kristen knew she was terrible and she wanted to blame something besides herself. I remember when Star Is Born came out with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson neither of them were rockers but that movie made a bindle and Kris really pulled it off. The point is an actor should be able to portray a good story and the age differences of the audience wouldn’t matter!

  • Marty

    I LOVE both movies, thank you for mentioning them! But in defense, while not perfect there is sometihng about The Runaways movie that had me on its side. Although u r right, Cherie was no delicate flower.

  • Daria

    I’ve seen Foxes. Cherie Currie did good but it was evident that Jodie Foster was the true acting talent of that cast. What an amazing actress that Jodie Foster was even then! That’s one of her most underrated performances. Wish she would go back to more than mainstream thrillers. She was more interesting back then.

  • Bob

    There’s not much room for real analysis in the review section, and modern movies alone (outside of the more open context of a critic’s blog) barely warrant it anyway. In Owen’s hands, this blog has become one of the only places to find truly thoughtful and interesting popular film criticism…I’m glad it’s around.

  • Leslie

    Saw Foxes and Light of Day. Liked them both, but really liked Joan Jett in LoD.

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