Film Review: BAD REPUTATION (USA 2018) ****

Bad Reputation Poster

Documentary about rock star Joan Jett.


Kevin Kerslake


Joel Marcus

BAD REPUTATION is a very appropriate title for the comprehensive documentary of Joan Jett of her former band the Runaways.  For one it is the title of a famous Joan Jett song and it is also the reputation that precedes girl rocker Joan Jett.

Director Kerslake makes the film more relevant by centring on the persecution the band faced being an all girl band.  When they fist performed, they were praised, but when they posed a challenge going on tour and cutting records, they were then called sluts.  Jett tackles the problem head on, talking about it.  She says Britain and Japan were more acceptable than the United States.  During interviews, she was always asked about the sex thing and she had to make sure it was always about the music.

They (The Runaways) initially toured and got no money.  They had to ask for food hamburger money.  Jett said that only in Japan were they starting to get paid. 

What makes this doc unique is the way it traces Jett’s maturity as a rock and roller.  When the Runaways started, they were 5 teenage girls, taking drugs and making songs.  Jett was initially shy but graduated to lead singer first performing as lead singer in London.  Jett also almost died from a heart infection while on tour. Her broken heart (from keeping the band together) ironically became literal.  And when the band broke up, no one really cared.  One has to give credit to a person who hung out with people like Sid Vicious and Nancy who died but she survived.

At best the film traces the difficulty of attaining success.  It is all in the marketing and believing in oneself.  As the film tracks the slow rise of the band (first moving from L.A. to New York with a wider network and the to Europe), the band’s soundtrack in the background of the footage makes the film’s point.

“Why don’t you get off my back?  Says Kenny Laguna, Jett’s best friend and manager at one point.  “Because it’s a lovely back.” replies Joan to which a more amicable response comes”: “Why don’t you lick it?”  The film devotes a fair amount of time between Jett and her manager, of course the person who has made a difference in her life and career.  Like marriage without the sex, like twins from different fathers.  These are words used to describe the relationship between Jett and Laguna.  The film’s funniest line is from her to Laguna when they disagree.  “Don’t show me that face!”

Just when the film begins to lag towards the last third, Kerslake lifts the doc up with Jett’s contribution to the Vietnam war.  She is anti-war and her discussions make so much sense.  “War is caused by the non-acceptance of difference religions.  If only there would be more curiosity instead.”  Mankind as a species has decided this was the way to go long ago.”  A bit of humour is also inserted as a fellow performer tells Jett, now head shaved, “I love the way you lift your arms when we can see the hair on your armpits and not on your head.”  The film turns inspirational and one cannot now help but admire Jett for what she stands for.

The only flaw of the film is its omission of Jett’s bad points.  Everyone has some.  Her drug use is only mentioned fleetingly and attributed to the immaturity of her teenage days.

Still the prize of the film are the recordings of her performances, especially on the big stage.  BAD REPUTATION establishes Joan Jett’s fantastic reputation as singer, songwriter and performer of a changing generation.