'Bad Reputation' Review
It doesn’t happen often, but I love going into documentaries, especially bio docs, knowing little or nothing about the subject. Aside from a few iconic songs and a couple of other titles, I walked into the theater to see “Bad Reputation” a blank slate. I walked out with an encyclopedic knowledge and appreciation of the life of Joan Jett.
Jett is a rock and roll icon and one of the greatest female influencers in music history. But in her 40-plus year career (which is still going strong), Jett has never quite hit “superstar” status. That’s one of the many topics addressed in “Bad Reputation”, named after one of her most popular songs, with lyrics that defined Jett as a pioneer:
I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation
You’re living in the past
It’s a new generation
In a noteworthy year for bio docs, “Bad Reputation” may be the most thorough in exploring its subject – especially considering it’s only 90 minutes. Director Kevin Kerslake not only interviews Jett (who talks directly to us), but dozens of others who have had an impact on her life (and she on theirs), from long-time manager Kenny Laguna (he and Jett are depicted as “a married couple but without the sex”) to Iggy Pop, Kristen Stewart, Billie Joe Armstrong, Miley Cyrus and even UFC President Dana White.
The pacing of “Bad Reputation” is like a typical Jett song: fast, furious and at times, it’s a bit overwhelming. If you’re not familiar with Jett going in, have a cup of coffee and then hang on for a musical rollercoaster ride through the numerous ups and downs of her career. The early days were especially challenging. Jett was only 16 when she and four other teen girls formed The Runaways. They quickly built a cult following in LA, but weren’t taken seriously by the 70s rock establishment. Later, when Jett became lead singer of The Blackhearts, multiple record labels still turned their backs on the group, even though they had established a huge following. Lessons of perseverance and passion are come through loud and clear in “Bad Reputation”.
Through home movies and gritty footage of early stage performances, Kerslake presents a woman in a male-dominated industry who was able to rise above the bull@#$& of the times and the exciting and sometimes ugly punk rock scene of the 70s and 80s. And she did it with a no-nonsense, positive energy and unwavering determination.
There’s plenty of time spent on Jett’s Runaways and Blackhearts band mates. And the film also explores the singer’s acting career. Jett co-starred with Michael J. Fox in the 1987 music drama “Light of Day”. Fox and Jett reflect on working with each other. Knowing nothing about that film, this section was a personal highlight.
The screening I attended included an exclusive rehearsal performance of Jett and the Blackhearts, filmed only a few weeks ago. Jett, who recently turned 60, proves that she still loves rock n roll – and it still loves her back.
“Bad Reputation” is the ultimate tribute documentary. No matter how you go in you’ll come out a fan.