REVIEW: Punk-Rock Pops Doc Other F Word Good With Kids, Less So With Ideas
"You might say hey, maybe punk rock was never meant to grow up -- but it did, so too bad. We're in uncharted territory," Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz, also the owner of Epitaph Records, says early in Andrea Blaugrund's documentary The Other F Word. Billing itself as a "coming of middle age story," this earnest and intermittently lovable look into the lives of prominent punk rockers who've gone on to become responsible fathers doesn't break as much ground as it seems to hope and believe.
Punk's hardly the first counterculture movement to age into less cutting-edge adulthood, though with its roots in the rejection of conformity, of authority and established structures it may be the one most suited to be left to the young, angry and focused on what they don't want to be rather than what they do. But how these tattooed veterans of mosh pits and countless tours deal with being authority figures in their own families is a question this film treats with great tenderness if little impact -- as one bemused punk pop puts it, "How did we go from rebelling against our own parents to becoming parents ourselves?"
Blaugrund pulls together a solid assembly of interviewees for The Other F Word (if ones that stretch past the boundaries of punk) -- Gurewitz is joined by Fat Mike from NOFX, Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, Everclear's Art Alexakis, Lars Frederiksen from Rancid, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and plenty of others, including skateboarder Tony Hawk and BMXer Rick Thorne to pipe in from outside of the music world. The main arc of the film is built around Jim Lindberg of Pennywise (incidentally the author of a book called Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life) who finds himself exhausted by the endless loop of touring that's the reality of band life for most these days, a brutal schedule that allows him to support his family but also keeps him away from them for a large part of the year. He's placed in a situation in which his obligations to his kids come up against those to his bandmates of 20 years, and at the close of the film he makes the difficult decision to quit.
It's as much the shifting ground in the music industry as the burdens of image and ideology that make life difficult for these mohawked fathers, though it's this aspect The Other F Word handles least well, touching on complaints about downloads and the reasoning behind putting an album on MySpace that are part of a discussion no one's even having anymore. But with the idea of making money from record sales gone, touring's all that's left, and for a band like Pennywise, that's no glamorous proposition. We watch Lindberg check into an Econolodge with a suitcase full of antacid and clothes he didn't have time to toss in the laundry, to at night comb dye into his goatee to hide the gray. The film splashes lyrics across the screen during the lively performance footage, but off stage the interviewees talk of exhaustion with their songs and with the cycle of having to summon enthusiasm each night for each new town.
Punk may be best suited to the young and carefree about consequences ("Sometimes you think, 'Oh shit, should I have tattooed my forehead?'" muses Frederiksen, whose brow reads "SKUNX"), but it's of course the scenes of these unlikely dads doing typical dad things that's where the movie sings, from Flea tearing up talking about his daughter to Alexakis singing "The Wheels on the Bus" to his little girl in the car seat behind him to Fat Mike in a zebra-print bath robe spraying toast with -- is that I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!? The idea that these men, many of whom came from rough backgrounds and troubled home lives, find such fulfillment and meaning in being better fathers to their kids than their own fathers were to them is touching, especially given how ill-suited to the role many of them at first considered themselves.
The heartfelt sincerity of these scenes almost obscures how little there is to The Other F Word beyond them. It's lovely to see these attempts at punk parenting, but there's really not much "punk" to them beyond appearances. Even the kids with the liberty spikes have to grow up eventually, or risk being left the oldest guys at the show, hitting on high school girls, developing liver damage and bragging about never selling out while living in their parents' basement. That this film acts like it's unexpected to find such paternal dedication amongst these pierced, guitar-playing dudes seems terribly naive. Why would being in a hardcore band preclude you from being a decent dad? You need only flip through the current roster of reality TV to see that far scarier and less-prepared people become parents every day.
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