Feminist, Activist, Rock ‘n’ Roll Icon, Punk Goddess…those are just a few ways someone can describe Joan Jett. She’s an absolute legend, and her influence is immeasurably vast in its reach. She’s the perfect subject for a documentary, but the thing about music documentaries is that they’re very hit or miss for me. I think they’re either incredibly fascinating like Ondi Timoner’s classic Dig!, or Bang! The Bert Berns Story…or, they’re too long, unfocused, repetitious, or flat out boring. Musicians often don’t make good interviewees, and despite living fascinating lives sometimes those wild times don’t translate well in documentary form. Bad Reputation is a film with a shitload of heart. Joan Jett’s life and career certainly deserve a film to explore it in depth, but at a certain point, I found myself getting frustrated as a viewer. It felt to me like everyone was speaking for Joan, and telling her story for her. I just wanted to hear more of it straight from her.
“Bad Reputation is a film with a shitload of heart…”
Bad Reputation is informative, and it does feature great interview segments from the likes of Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, former The Runaways bandmate Cherie Currie, Miley Cyrus, and many more. Bad Reputation takes its audience through Joan Jett’s days forming The Runaways, chronicles the hardships they suffered getting a fair shake in the music industry, their break-up, Jett’s formation of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, and all the way up to where she is and what she’s doing today. To the film’s credit, I did feel like I gained new insight into who Joan Jett is, where she came from, and why she is where she is, but it just feels like there wasn’t enough of her for my liking. Every time she showed up on screen she commanded my attention, and almost always she had the best one-liners, and hands down funniest and most interesting stories. With so many people popping up and saying their opinions, it sometimes felt a little messy and unfocused. Not in a terrible way, but certainly in a noticeable one. There were some audio choices that confused me too. Maybe they were stylistic choices, but they made me think that the film was skipping and something was wrong with the theater I watched it in. Aside from those gripes, the film has a very punk rock aesthetic, and old photos and video footage are utilized very effectively. The film captured why Joan Jett is amazing not only as a musician but also as a human being. Examples include her support of Against Me! Lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as transgender or filling in for Mia Zapata with The Gits after she was found raped and murdered. Her passion for helping people, loving others, and being accepting is very apparent and on full display in this film. Joan Jett comes off as a genuine and truly sweet person who still can, and always has been able, to kick your ass and wreck you at guitar. She’s a true hero little girls could and should look up too, someone with a kind heart, strong determination, and an uncompromising spirit.
“…it sometimes felt a little messy and unfocused.”
My issues with the film are minor, it’s certainly a good film that will entertain hardcore fans and those unfamiliar with Jett’s music. Joan Jett truly is a remarkable human being, and in a day and age where things are undeniably changing in regards to our attitude and treatment towards women in the entertainment industry, Joan Jett deserves to be acknowledged as a pioneer in this movement.
Bad Reputation (2018) Directed by: Kevin Kerslake. Written by: Joel Marcus. Starring: Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, Miley Cyrus, Debbie Harry, Michael J. Fox, Rodney Bingenheimer, Kathleen Hanna. Bad Reputation premiered at The MARC Theatre on January 22nd as part of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
8 out of 10