Director Floria Sigismondi captures rock’s bad girls in The Runaways

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      You don’t have to have seen The Runaways, the new biopic about Joan Jett’s early years as a teenage rocker, to know the directorial flair of Floria Sigismondi, an Italian-born, Canadian-raised filmmaker now based in the U.S.

      Her videos for the likes of Bjí¶rk, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, the White Stripes, and Christina Aguilera have won awards worldwide. But working a four-minute miracle isn’t the same thing as sustaining interest for 109 semi-biographical minutes, and Sigismondi knew she would come under scrutiny no matter how well she made the transition.

      “Oh, I had to bear with that for a long time,” the writer-director says on the phone from Toronto. “Fortunately, the producers had such trust in me they agreed to let me do this before I’d even written a page.”

      Sigismondi lives in Los Angeles, and she was drawn to the tacky Sunset Strip milieu that gave rise to the Runaways. She nails the mid ’70s Strip vibe and succeeds in drawing dead-on portraits of Jett and lead singer Cherie Currie in their jailbait phase from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, respectively, as well as a killer turn from Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the band’s over-the-top manager.

      “It was pre-punk and pre- a lot of things, with all that Farrah Fawcett mixed in with raunchier elements,” Sigismondi explains. “But really, I was taken more by these characters and what it must have been like to be so young in that environment. In particular, I wanted to focus on Joan’s determination, because I really identified with her.”

      Watch the trailer for The Runaways.

      Indeed, with her black hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, the filmmaker resembles the rocker, though not as much as Stewart does. Here, the latter shrugs off her Twilight aura to capture the feline, low-slung hunch of the axe-wielding Jett, who also (at age 50) served as an executive producer of the film.

      “Yes, Kristen really took it on, beyond anything I could have hoped for,” Sigismondi says.

      And that includes a frank depiction of Jett’s omnivorous sexuality, including an intense connection with bandmate Currie.

      Says Sigismondi, “Yes, Joan and I never really discussed it, but it was in Cherie’s book and I put it in the script. Joan didn’t say anything, so I took that as a sign to go with it!”

      The film, which opens on Friday (March 19), focuses on the dynamic between the two Runaways from broken homes and their contrasting responses to early success, to the exclusion of other members, especially hotshot guitarist Lita Ford.

      “That was mostly due to lack of participation,” the director says, “but I did want to convey what came together with that magical five. Oh, God, it’s such a challenge to portray living people. For me, it was never about doing a factual biopic, though. It was more about what it was like to be 15 and tossed into that world.”

      It’s little wonder, then, that Sigismondi will likely stick to invented characters from now on.

      “I have no idea what I’ll be doing next, but I suspect I’ll find a way to use something kind of fantastical—something that marries together everything I’ve learned.”