Arts and Culture

‘Bad Reputation’ Profiles Rock Star Joan Jett’s Music Career

Kevin Kerslake’s new documentary ‘Bad Reputation’ chronicles the career of Joan Jett, the female rock star who founded The Runaways and eventually made her name in the Blackhearts. Producing hit-singles such as “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” “Bad Reputation,” and “Do you wanna touch me (Oh Yeah),” the 95-minute film explores Jett’s rise, and backlash, as she enters the music industry.

Fans of rock music, and most likely music fans in general, will enjoy ‘Bad Reputation:’ a film that on the surface is about a rebellious lady who likes to rock, but is truly the story of overcoming oppression and finding the drive to rise against your own insecurities.

‘Bad Reputation’ poster. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

In the process, we now have a documentary about a singer who seems to have fallen off the map. With the majority of her hits released in the 1980s, rock fans alike will be curious as to what happened to that baddie singer, who wants us to know she loves rock and roll.

‘Bad Reputation’ is a very good documentary about music. It follows Jett as she forms The Runaways, shocks the nation with its all-female members and boundary-pushing content, and documents the unique bond formed between Jett and her producer Kenny Laguna. We see many clips and B-roll of Jett’s performances, and interwoven throughout the movie, are interviews with the singer, where she speaks about her musical innovation.

Inspiring? Yes. Informative? Well, sort of. ‘Bad Reputation’ suffers from an extreme disbalance of information. While it chronicles a complete, well-rounded story in Jett’s musical accomplishments, only one spoken line gets at her personal life.

Innovation is great, and since Jett is very much a great singer, it would have been nice to learn about who she is as a person. Leaving the documentary, basic questions like where she grew up, what her family was like, and how the former factors influenced her music, are left unanswered.

Perhaps this is purposeful. In the age of #MeToo and the resurgence of women’s equality into mainstream culture, ‘Bad Reputation’ exemplifies not only a strong woman role-model, but the story of how one woman who everyone in the rock scene doubted, escaped the shackles of oppression and criticism, and crafted an iconic career.

Unfortunately, by only sticking to her musical life, we have a documentary that is very one-sided. For some, this might not be a problem. I enjoyed the documentary quite a bit and do recommend it to anyone who is interested in music, but do not expect to learn about Jett. Expect to learn about Jett’s music and her presence in the industry.

In other regards, the movie is quite entertaining. Jett herself is a tough, yet pleasant personality to watch. As we watch her make strides in the music world, I felt quite inspired. The documentary is seamless when it comes to editing, and there are several celebrity interviews that I had no idea were going to be in the film.

Jett’s music is also going to be on replay for quite a while after seeing the film. Perhaps you grew up with her music and recently rediscovered ‘Crimson and Clover’ while browsing through her catalogue on Spotify. Or you are of the modern generation, some of whom have probably never heard of a Joan Jett. This documentary could definitely turn some newcomers onto her music, and instill a strong message about feminine power and succeeding in a world where the odds are not in your favor.

Overall, ‘Bad Reputation’ is an entertaining and enjoyable documentary. The editing is great, and the musical side of Jett’s story is quite well documented and feels cohesive. However, the documentary does not inform us whatsoever of Jett’s personal life, which makes the film very one-dimensional. Nevertheless, it is still a very empowering film. One that could easily inspire kids today to rock.


*** = B+