Kevin Kerslake's Bad Reputation attempts to reveal the visionary mind underneath Joan Jett's black shag. Like most documentaries about artists, Kerslake assembles archival clips and exclusive interviews into a linear timeline. But what's unexpected is that much of Jett's story, here, gets told by her producer and best friend Kenny Laguna, whose relationship with the rock priestess illuminates some of the dark spots in her history. Too bad, then, that even Laguna's input doesn't get to the heart of Jett's essence, as Bad Reputation comes off more as a fanboy's declaration of reverence to the queen rather than an interrogation of one of the most iconic women in music.
Jett's Runaways bandmate Cherie Currie shows up for an interview, which might have offered a counterpoint to Jett's memories of that epochal teen rock group's beginnings. The two now have a cordial, warm relationship, but certainly present different accounts of their now-deceased manager and producer Kim Fowley and how it all went sour. (The Runaways' Jackie Fuchs has alleged that Fowley raped her, a charge her bandmates have not all corroborated.) Kerslake could at least have asked: "How do you feel about Kim Fowley now, and what negative or positive things did you learn from him?"
But that's a larger issue with documentaries made by people who admire their subjects too dearly. They're so often so happy to gush over their heroes in these kinds of films that they forego the rigorous questioning that might elicit thoughtful or enlightening responses. Still, in its best moments, Bad Reputation persuasively argues that Jett was under-the-radar fostering new generations of female rockers into success for decades.