We watched The Social Network recently and I thought the film was an excellent and funny biopic. You know the story, right? A brilliant young programmer with almost zero social skills ends up developing Facebook, the most used social networking platform in the world, and manages to make a lot of enemies in the process. It’s a story that worked really well as a movie because screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was able to weave a compelling story out of it.
I couldn’t help but compare the movie to another recent biopic that I saw: The Runaways, that flick about Joan Jett and the world’s first all-girl rock group. Like the formation of Facebook, this was also a historically important story, because this event lead to and inspired so many other rock bands in time to come.
But was The Runaways a good movie? Not really. And it’s not really due to the performances of Kristen Stewart or Dakota Fanning either; mostly it was because it just wasn’t a very engaging movie.
Think about it: someone really loves rock and roll, and they meet a producer who kick starts their career. Success goes to their heads, they start experimenting with drugs and internal bickering eventually tears the band apart. While the story of the Runaways is unique and significant, a movie story based on this basic structure is anything but.
We’ve seen it a million times before – if you replace Kristen Stewart with Marky Mark, you’ve pretty much got that Rock Star movie, except with a different soundtrack.
Maybe something new to the story could’ve been added, like some compelling characters, but writer/director Floria Sigismondi seemed to be satisfied with telling a step by step recreation of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie’s story. In keeping so closely to that generic rock band structure, the two leads felt like generic archetypes even though they were based on real people.
Sorkin on the other hand, publicly admitted to embellishing certain scenes and altering historical events in order to put together a good screen story. It’s not the first time someone’s done this – JFK, Troy, and so many other movies have messed with historical facts in favor of a better screen story. If you wanted a 100% accurate account of a historical event, you should probably read a book or watch a documentary.
Anyway, I guess I’m just trying to say that just because a movie is based on an epic or significant historical event, doesn’t mean you can scrimp on character development and story arcs. You guys are writing a movie, not a documentary!