One of my favorite documentaries of the year is “The Other F Word,” a film about what could be called Extreme Parenting. It is the story of punk rockers and other men who have made careers out of rebellion and outrageous behavior and the way they cope with the challenges of fatherhood. I spoke with the two women who made the film, writer-director Andrea Blaugrund and producer Cristan Reilly, two mothers who told me that what drew them to the project was the way it illuminated the adjustments that everyone makes to parenthood.
The heart of the movie is Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the punk band Pennywise, and author of Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life. Reilly said, “I grew up knowing Jim in high school. We were friends but lost touch. I heard he had written this book and knew I had to read it. I read and loved the book, and thought it would be an amazing documentary and Jim needs to be in it. I gave it to Andrea because we have the same world view and laugh at the same things. She called me back and said, “I’m in.” I dragged her out of her semi-retirement.” Reilly told me that, “We made this on a shoestring, did a whole DIY. Some people offered money but didn’t want anyone else weighing in.” A large part of the small budget went for the rights to the punk songs on the soundtrack. Blaudrund said, “There were 44 sides we needed to clear of music, over a third of the budget, but we had to have it.” The use of the songs was more than background. The content of the film reframes them. “It is such an opportunity to listen to these songs you have one opinion of and hear them a different way.” They told me about a 15 year old punk fan who went to the film with her mother and said she heard the Everclear song “Father of Mine” in an entirely new way because the movie made its wistfulness come through.
Reilly has 13 year old twin boys and a 7-year-old and Blaugrund’s children are 12, 9, and 6 and they made the movie while juggling carpools and play dates, just like the punk dads in the movie. It is Reilly’s first film but Blaugrund said, “She learned how to be super-efficient by being the mother of twin boys. I had worked at ABC news and NPR and written for newspapers and the documentary unit for Peter Jennings and made a short that got an Oscar nomination. There was something about that accolade that gave me permission to hang up my hat for a couple of years.” Blaugrund added, “I was being super-mom and was making babies and schools, but when Cristan brought this to me my youngest was starting pre-school and what better way to come out of my supermomness than a movie about parenthood?” They knew very little about the punk world but did a lot of research and insisted on a cinematographer/editor who was a punk fan and who gave the film a genuine punk energy and vitality.
And yet, the core appeal is from the universal themes. “They’re coming from so far on the other side.” said Reilly. “We all go through this of course, if you look at it from the most extreme you can get the largest swath and you can relate to the most people.” Blaugrund said, “One of the greatest surprises about this whole process for us is how many different types of people it’s touched. Lawyers and accountants tell us ‘this was my favorite band growing up,’ or ‘you’ve awakened the sleeping punk in me’ and even people who can’t relate to punk at all, especially men who says, ‘These are the guys I used to try to avoid, but dude, I get exactly what uyou’re going through, let me buy you a drink.’ There are so many things people can relate to with their own parents and their children. We get to see plenty of bad examples of fatherhood, but here’s something in the more positive column.”
The charm of the film is the way it breaks down stereotypes, and it is enormously fun to see a guy with tattoos tenderly singing “The Wheels on the Bus” to a child in a car seat or Lindberg packing to go on tour and explaining he only has room for one Barbie in his suitcase. But what is moving about the film is the way these men speak of having no fathers of their own. They are, in Blaugrund’s words, “creating their own templates and trying to figure it out.”
I wondered if it was hard to get the men to speak candidly about how transforming fatherhood was for them. Reilly told me that, “Andrea was asking them questions they don’t normally get asked. ‘You don’t want to talk about my bass player?’ Falling down this rabbit hole we could ask whatever we wanted; there was no sacred ground. It was a whole different side of their personalities and they were glad to show it.”