By Bob Tourtellotte
PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - They gained movie stardom playing wholesome young girls, but when fans see Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in upcoming "The Runaways," they will find a new side -- a wild one -- to the teen actresses.
The movie, about the all-girl teenage rock band of the same name co-founded by Joan Jett in the 1970s, debuted here at the Sundance Film Festival late Sunday to solid reviews, and it hits movie theaters this coming March.
When it does, there is little doubt "Runaways" will have audiences buzzing because Fanning and Stewart take them back to the era that made "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" a cliche.
To see "Cat in the Hat" star Fanning, 15, snort drugs, or Stewart, 19, the lovelorn Bella Swan in the "Twilight" movies swig whiskey from a bottle and sling a guitar over her shoulder, may be a challenge for some audiences.
But the real test will come in their portrayal of a lesbian affair between the two lead characters, Jett (Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Fanning).
"I didn't even think about it. I still haven't even thought about it." Fanning told Reuters in a joint interview with Stewart.
"She's blocked it out," Stewart chimed in, with a laugh.
"No, no," said Fanning. "It was just another thing that was in the story."
The tale of "The Runaways" is as old as rock itself and deals with a rapid rise to stardom, fan adoration that follows, and a descent into drug and alcohol abuse that, for Currie, ended a career, and for Jett, proved an obstacle to overcome.
The Runaways were formed by guitarist Jett and drummer Sandy West in 1975. They were joined by Micki Steele on bass, Lita Ford on lead guitar and Currie -- all in their teens.
Svengali-like manager Kim Fowley pitched them as the first all-girl rock band, and his savvy marketing -- along with some real talent -- gained them ever-increasing popularity in nightclubs. With hits like "Cherry Bomb," their fame grew.
TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
But the price of fame can be high, and soon the girls slipped into a haze of booze and pills. Band members began changing, and after about four years, they broke up.
The movie focuses on Currie, her dysfunctional family and her relationship with Jett, and it serves as both a tragic tale about the price of fame and a triumphant story of Jett's career. She went on to major success with The Blackhearts.
In its review, Daily Variety called it "a conventionally enjoyable making-and-breaking-of-the-band saga."
But the brief affair between Jett and Currie will likely get the major share of media attention when the film hits theaters, much as did the gay encounters between Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in romance "Brokeback Mountain."
Stewart said that focus is off-the-mark. "The fact they made out when they got crazy back in the day...of course people are going to want to know about stuff like that, but what's more interesting is how much they love each other," she said. "It's not really a romantic relationship. It's a friendship."
Indeed, Sundance audiences buzzed about the story of an all-girl band rising to stardom in male-dominated rock music, as well as the performances and the soundtrack, which includes hits of "glam rockers" such as David Bowie.
Fanning, who captured hearts as a child actor in movies such as "I Am Sam," said what drew her to "The Runaways" was portraying a "real person and real-life things that happened."
"I wasn't familiar with the band before. It really opened my eyes to a whole new thing, a whole new time."
Jett told Reuters it was "surreal" seeing the girls play the parts on-screen, and even though the real story took place in the 1970s, it should resonate with today's audiences.
"People get that sense of the misfits and the outcasts, and I think that's the draw...overcoming adversity and not letting other people tell you who you're going to be in life and to follow you're own dreams," she said.
(Additional reporting by Lindsay Claiborn of Reuters TV; Editing by Jill Serjeant)