The Other F Word
These punk rocker dads just wanna be sedated
All right, you know what the first “f’’ word is. You would know even if you had no idea that “The Other F Word’’ is a documentary about aging punk rockers. As for the titular “f’’ word, it’s “fatherhood.’’ You can guess who the fathers are.
This is very high concept, if not meeting cute then procreating cute (or anti-cute, as the case might be). “There really is nothing in the punk-rock ethos that prepares you for being a dad,’’ points out Brett Gurewitz, of the punk label Epitaph Records and the band Bad Religion. And in that lack of preparation lurks a set of possibilities that sounds part sitcom (“Punk Dad’’?), part reality TV (“The Real Househusbands of CBGB’s’’?).
Several things ensure that this debut documentary feature by writer-director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins doesn’t go in either of those directions. It has a strong sense of place, for one thing. Her interview subjects belong or belonged to the Los Angeles punk scene. (Probably her best-known talking head is Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, though skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk pops up, too.) So there’s a sense of suburban openness in many of her shots that’s positively domestic.
There must be fathers who belong to the New York or London punk scene. But there can’t be too many of them behind the wheel of a minivan. That’s what Art Alexakis, of Everclear, is driving, with his wife and toddler daughter as passengers, while he sings “The Wheels on the Bus.’’ And you thought Sid Vicious covering “My Way’’ was cognitively dissonant?
A more important thing the documentary has going for it is its de facto star, Jim Lindberg. The father of three daughters as well as for two decades the lead singer of Pennywise, Lindberg is smart, articulate, and nicely self-aware. The movie opens and closes with him skateboarding down an empty street. Doesn’t every guy in his mid-40s do that? Lindberg’s throwaway self-description of himself as getting by during a tour “on Ambien and hair dye’’ may be the best line in a movie full of good ones. Another is his rueful admission that “It never dawned on me that at one point I’d be a father and have to buy the clean version of my albums to play in the car. Yeah, that’s a pickle.’’
The documentary’s full of fish-out-of-water comedy. Flea’s account of the time everyone at his adolescent daughter’s dance class freaked out when they saw him outside the studio waiting for her (“Who is that guy? Call the cops!’’) is just one example. There’s real emotion here, too. Several of the rockers get wet-eyed talking about their own upbringing and/or becoming a parent. In the documentary’s most moving scene, Duane Peters, of U.S. Bombs, describes the experience of losing a child (a teenage son killed in a car crash).
Punk is a many-splintered thing. Its one unifying principle, as well as its one undeniable virtue, is the impulse to strip things down to absolute basics. Nevins might have profitably followed that example. “The Other F Word’’ is full of slick editing and various zippy technical tricks: split screens, sped-up footage, song lyrics and other text (in wild fonts) superimposed on the screen. Sometimes it’s fun. More often it’s distracting.
The oddest thing about “The Other F Word’’ isn’t the pairing of punk rock and parenthood. We hardly ever see any of these guys’ wives, and when they do appear on screen they almost never speak. This is a serious omission. After all, you can’t have that other “f’’ word without a certain “m’’ word first.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.