IIt’s a strange but all too common phenomenon that film biographies of music stars often leave the viewer less fond of the subject as a person, sometimes in direct proportion to how much he or she liked the subject’s work beforehand. (See, for example, Nina Simone bio-doc What Happened, Miss Simone? and Lady Gaga’s tribute Gaga: Five Foot Two.) It’s nice to point out that’s not the case with Bad Reputation, a retrospective dedicated to rock star Joan Jett, who appears here as funny, smart, self-aware and generous as you might hope. Aging gracefully now that she’s in her seventh decade, Jett reflects honestly on the ups and downs of her career, from her early days as a founding member of proto-punk girl band The Runaways to her star years. solo from her I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll hits and the titular Bad Reputation and supporting cast gigs – clips showing her in Paul Schrader’s now seldom-seen Light of Day are worth the price of admission alone – to her most recent apotheosis as a grand old lady and mentor to young people.
Director Kevin Kerslake pushes the story along at a good adagio pace, delving into the archives to unearth vintage clips of not just Jett and his contemporaries, but also David Bowie and former Runaways manager Kim Fowley, a multi-faceted disturbing character, taking about the highlights of LA’s Sunset Strip in the mid-’70s. Plus, there’s a pretty star-studded lineup of Jett fans and friends offering ideas, including Debbie Harry, Miley Cyrus and Iggy Pop. But the biggest thrill is seeing Jett herself speak and seeing her still strong bond with producer and best friend Kenny Laguna: two leather-clad old buddies, constantly bickering but inseparable.