Sundance Diary: 'Blue Valentine' And 'The Runaways'

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in 'The Runaways'.

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart star in The Runaways. Floria Sigismondi hide caption

itoggle caption Floria Sigismondi

by Ella Taylor

That'll teach me to trot around after official festival buzz, a tricky creature launched by marketers with money and obligingly spread for free by all means Webby.

Sunday afternoon, I joined huge crowds for Blue Valentine, a classic Sundance weepie distinguished by two fine actors trying to breathe life into indifferent material. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are terrific as a blue-collar couple drowning in their disintegrating marriage. I'm a sucker for the plotless domestic drama, but writer/director Derek Cianfrance is no Bergman. Wife gets tense, husband gets drunk, wife gets madder, and so it goes for two hours, with frequent flashbacks to high school that in no way help us to divine what, beyond uneven personal growth, is pulling this nice couple apart. We all contain multitudes and all that, but here hands are wrung too often, to too little effect.

Joan Jett's biopic, after the jump.

Kristen Stewart has one of the most arresting faces in young Hollywood, but she hasn't been asked to do much acting yet. Curious to see whether the hot young Twiight star can do more than mope, run her fingers through her modishly greasy hair and mumble into her boots, I stayed to see her play Joan Jett in Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways, of which new festival director John Cooper said in his introduction, "Some films are important, other films change your life. This film just rocks out."

The rocking out is fine in this hotly anticipated (read: efficiently buzzed) biopic based on Jett's short-lived 1970s all-girl band. In fact, Stewart, a vision in black shag, magenta eye-shadow and leathers, doesn't get much of a look-in in beyond brandishing her electric guitar and wallowing in trailer-trash truculence. The movie's all about the descent into booze and drugs of lead singer Cherie Curry, played as well as she can (given the awful script) by Dakota Fanning as a frail child who'd rather be singing Peggy Lee and Don MacLean. Short on character (Michael Shannon is amusingly ludicrous as the band's abusive but image-savvy manager) and long on attitude, The Runaways plays like the sloppily entertaining stretched-out music video it is.

"But you'll write that Dakota Fanning is great," a personage attached to the movie told me after assuring me that according to her exit poll, every critic but me loved it. I wasn't quite sure whether this was a request or a command, but since she did helpfully hold my limp pizza slice while I dug around in my purse for a pen, here's a blurb, in the language of the moment: Dakota was dandy; the movie kind of sucked.

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