As the old, apocryphal quote goes: “Every generation thinks they invented sex.” The same can likely be said for the kind of ersatz rebellion celebrated in The Other F Word, a lightweight, frustratingly lazy documentary about punk-rock dads. Covered in tattoos and clinging to wisps of their outsider status, the men profiled here seem assured of the novelty of their dilemma, as if they were the first generation to settle into a middle-class existence after a youth spent on the fringes. It’s an illusion that the film coddles rather than challenges.
As we learn, going from anti-establishment bulwarks to mature authority figures involves more than threats to one’s street cred, and the The Other F Word at least makes an effort in distinguishing the differing economic statuses of its subjects. Some, like former Black Flag singer Ron Reyes, have long since returned to the working world, compartmentalizing their wild youths as a part of the past. Others, like Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg, are forced to live on as spectral versions of their younger selves, torn between the financial necessity of constant touring and the desire to settle down with their families. Most seem, however, to have avoided completely growing up, taking their status as devoted family men as a kind of sacred higher calling, while still believing in the silly ideology they espoused during their teens. “Being a dad is the punkest thing of all,” Lindberg announces late in the film, and the fact that director Andrea Blaugrund never remotely challenges this ridiculous assertion highlights how little the film is interested in digging into its material.
There’s something touching about the devotion of these guys, most of them the product of broken homes, striving to do right by their wives and children. The film also hits on a potentially strong subject in its depiction of mid-level bands, for whom constant touring is the only remaining source of income, surviving on fan nostalgia as CD sales dwindle. But by and large, the rockers profiled come off as entitled and delusional, prone to grandeur and self-deception, feelings that are allowed to thrive in this endlessly deferential environment. Lindberg seems convinced that having neck tattoos of his daughters’ names marks him as some kind of dangerous radical, while aging hardliners like Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, with his leopard-patterned hair, studded bracelets, and two-toned pants, hang on to the fantasy that they’re still freaking out squares, even as their wrinkling faces and scribbled-on eyeliner make them look more like sad clowns.
Blissfully unaware of the world outside its own milieu, The Other F Word celebrates its road warriors as an entirely new breed of musician that has to balance family responsibilities with the financial obligations those families create, a narrow view that ignores generations of jazz and big-band artists who spent entire thankless careers working the road. This myopic focus not only makes The Other F Word feel detached from reality, but makes way for heaps of sentimentality and self-pity, the camera enchanted by the mystique of lonely hotel rooms and long-distance phone calls. All this, presented via oppressively frenetic MTV-style editing, full of obvious soundbites and speechifying celebrities, gives the film the feel of a middling reality show, a barebones classification it never comes close to surpassing.