I used to tell myself that one positive side effect of this reality TV craze was that it made mass audiences more accepting of documentaries. Indeed, a few years back there seemed to be a mini boom of sorts, with several docs finding modest commercial success that would have been unthinkable a decade prior.
But there’s also been a creeping confusion of aesthetics, as certain documentary filmmakers have begun to rely on tropes better suited for their small-screen counterparts. While no means as egregious as 2008’s American Teen —Nanete Burstein’s abominable and justly forgotten Sundance phenomenon that was as transparently staged and manipulated as an episode of Jersey Shore —director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ The Other F Word still might as well be on cable.
I watched a screener copy of the film on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and with all The Other F Word’s revved-up music cues, frantic editing from one quavering handheld shot to another, pointless mucking about with colors and wacky-font text-notes, it felt more like one of those day-killing MTV marathons than an actual movie experience. I kept waiting for a commercial break so I could go pee.
The too-cute title refers to fatherhood, and Nevins’ film explores the not unpromising concept of punk rockers turned middle-aged dads. Everybody grows up and joins the establishment sooner or later, even when you’ve built your career on telling that very establishment to go fuck itself.
After a brief, unsatisfactory overview of the Southern California punk scene in the 1980s, we settle in for a spell with Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg, saying goodbye to his daughters and preparing for another grueling 200-day tour. With the record industry in ruins, the only way most bands can make ends meet is on the road. We watch Lindberg wearily packing up hair dye for his goatee, hand sanitizer and antacids, making sure the kids finish their homework before it’s time for American Idol . So much for that rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
When I worked at a Greenwich Village video store back in the ’90s, I remember having my mind blown by the sight of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon pushing a stroller through the kiddie movie section. Similarly, watching a laundry list of inked-up rockers driving mini-vans and doting on toddlers provide an incongruous kick. Unfortunately, that’s all The Other F Word has to offer.
Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus laments on having to play the clean versions of his albums in the car on family trips. Rancid’s Lars Fredericksen clears a playground with his forehead and neck tattoos. Flea’s daughter rolls her eyes over the time Dad wore bondage pants to a school function. All of these candid interview subjects carry on at great, verbose length, as if they were the first wild dudes in the history of recorded time to ever settle down and act their age.
Bearing the McDonald’s grease-smeared fingerprints of executive producer Morgan Spurlock, The Other F Word is—in keeping with the Spurlock brand—a gimmick in search of a story. Channel-surfing through a ton of familiar faces with similar stories, at one point even Tony Hawk shows up and skateboards a bit with his kids for reasons that remain unclear.
Nevins never quite figures out what, if anything, she has to say about the subjects of fatherhood, punk rock, or the price of tea in China. A bid for pathos by Everclear’s Art Alexakis can charitably be described as unfortunate. Howling a few acoustic weepies about his absent father and miserable childhood in the bluntest, most artless lyrics imaginable, his pain is so palpable you just feel like an asshole for recoiling at the epic banality of the songs.
Eventually we return to Lindberg, who finally has to choose between his career and his family. No points for guessing how that one turns out.
I’m sorry, but where are the wives in all of this? Or surely there must have been a rough transitional period for at least a few of these hard-case dudes on their way to becoming Ward Cleavers in leather. How about some of those stories?
And dear god, where is the outside perspective? There are a lot of people with wild pasts who put all that stuff behind them when they have children. In fact, I’d say that’s pretty much every parent’s story—though some pasts are obviously wilder than others. The Other F Word can’t stop marveling at the simple fact that these angry little boys grew up and became men.
By the end I couldn’t help thinking of that old Chris Rock routine. “Yeah, you’re supposed to take care of your kids. What do you want, a cookie?”
Director: Andrea Blaugrund Nevins
Starring: Jim Lindberg, Art Alexakis and Mark Hoppus