Review: ‘Bad Reputation’ documents rocker Joan Jett and the art of staying relevant

Joan Jett from the documentary "Bad Reputation."
(Magnolia Pictures)

Between the 2010 biopic “The Runaways” and multiple documentaries about 1970s Los Angeles punk, the tale of Joan Jett’s rise to fame has been told plenty of times. If nothing else, Kevin Kerslake’s new doc, “Bad Reputation,” does rock fans a service by continuing past 1980, filling in what happened after Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n Roll” heyday.

True to his subject, Kerslake favors energy over nuance. “Bad Reputation” is fast-paced, zipping from one talking-head interview to the next. Interviews with Jett carry the bulk of the narrative load, supplemented by insights from her collaborators and famous fans (including “riot grrrl” stalwart Kathleen Hanna, who’s both).

It would have been nice if Kerslake had done a deeper dive into some of the more important aspects of the Jett mythology — like her early solo albums, which are rushed through in about 15 minutes. But it’s hard to argue that anything important is missing. The movie balances electrifying archival footage with useful contextual cultural analysis.

What’s most fascinating and inspiring about “Bad Reputation” is how it explains the two root causes of her longevity: her nearly 40-year partnership with songwriter-producer-manager Kenny Laguna, and her empathy with whatever young people are going through (especially if they’re musicians, and even more so if they’re women).


From Jett’s groundbreaking recordings with the Runaways to how she defied a narrow-minded media establishment, “Bad Reputation” is a case study in how a musician stays relevant.


‘Bad Reputation’

Rated: R, for language, sexual references, some drug use and brief nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 28, Landmark Nuart, West L.A.; also on VOD