In "The Other F Word," Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' ultra-cutesy and insightful documentary about aging punk rock icons mellowing into fatherhood, her subjects talk about the good old days as if they briefly opened a window into an impossibly hedonistic utopia. "You could do any fucked up thing you wanted to do," sighs one, by which he really means everything he can't do now. His tone defines the movie.
Subtitled "a coming of middle age story," Nevins' enjoyable non-fiction survey examines the erosion of anti-establishment values. Her main subject is former Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg, whose 2007 memoir "Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real" touches on many of the reflections captured by the filmmaker. Nevins also rounds up a who's who of eighties and nineties punk stars now grappling with their familial duties, including members of Total Chaos, US Bombs, and Blind-182.
Each one offers a unique take on the process that took them away from outright rebellion and into more settled terrain: Black Flag frontman Ron Reyes condemns the brutish attitude of the scene, while both Everclear 's Art Alexakis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea consider the impact of their neglectful fathers on their own sincere commitments.
While overlong and sometimes redundant, "The Other F Word" maintains its fundamental appeal through these collections of personal anecdotes and self-analysis. Nevins' MTV-ready approach takes the camera into her subjects' homes to bathe in the irony of their domestication, from Me First and Gimme Gimme's Fat Mike making toast for his daughter to Lindberg packing hair dye ahead of his next tour.
Once he's on that tour, however, Nevins' documentary shifts from sheer observation to explore the impact their careers have today. Lindberg, who eventually left Pennywise to become a more devoted family man, dominates this section with a constantly mopey expression. Over time, it starts to sound like he's using the kids as an excuse to satisfy a more general dissatisfaction with the band, whose other members never participate in interviews. But Nevins' documentary barely ventures deep enough to unravel that mystery.
Instead, "The Other F Word" works best when prompting its older and wiser participants to deconstruct their early punk attitudes, leading to a penetrating cultural breakdown that invokes Watergate, soaring divorce rates and other downers of the era as the seeds of their institutional disdain. The interviewees' candor about their fading angst gives the movie a sincere dimension. Alexakis' hit single "Father of Mine," performed by the Everclear singer in a moving acoustic cover, provides an anthem for the movie's theme--that punk identity can grow and chance rather than remaining fixated on the limited conceits of raucous youth counterculture.
And yet it's hard not to detect a strange condescension to the historic value of punk rock at the root of the documentary's construction, since nobody provides any counterarguments about the merits of resisting a settled life (nor, for that matter, do any women speak up). Nevins clearly sympathizes with Lindberg's story, but that bias causes the movie to miss a crucial piece of the puzzle. "Maybe punk rock wasn't supposed to grow up," Bad Religion's Brett Gurwitz shrugs, "but it did." Fair enough for the director and the intentions of her project, but the topic begs for greater scrutiny, rather than Nevins' sacred reverence toward Lindberg's evolving conservative mindset. Still, while the contradiction of punk rock parenthood may not have a solution, "The Other F Word" successfully has fun with the mystery.
criticWIRE grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Oscilloscope Laboratories opens "The Other F Word" at Film Forum today and Los Angeles next week followed by a national rollout. It has a fun hook that attract a decent following, but considering the niche appeal, its best business prospects are in ancillary markets.