LAFF 2007: Depressed Dudes

Shane West needs to shut his friends up.

Just as a rule of thumb, actors -- if you’re starring in a movie, and want people to like it, don’t reserve an entire row of seats in the theater for people who are going to annoy the audience. Their enjoyment of your film will be hampered. I don’t know who the two people behind me were that kept muttering throughout, when they weren’t getting up and going to the lobby, or coming back from the lobby, but they were in Shane West’s row. I’d have moved, but for having snagged one of the few seats in the house with great legroom.

Shane stars as Darby Crash in a new movie about punk rockers the Germs, called WHAT WE DO IS SECRET, and presumably Germs fans will know what that title means, because the film never says.

It’s tough to review a movie about a band I don’t know much about, because invariably there will be people out there who know everything in the subject, and are dying to catch me in a mistake. So this will be a delicate dance, but here goes.

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Back in college, I was part of a punk duo called Tato Shots, and somebody told me I reminded them of Darby Crash. Seeing the movie now, I see that some of the stuff I was doing was a lot like a watered down, less-musically-talented version of him. But I also see in West’s performance a portrayal of ambition mixed with crushing depression that I recognize all too well. He nails that emotional tone -- whether it’s what Darby was like, I know not; but boy, do I know that mood.

And there’s every reason to wonder how accurate things are, especially in a movie that features a scene at the KROQ studios, and claims the station is “107.6 FM.” Was it a legal requirement that they get the frequency wrong, or was somebody dyslexic? Also, the guy playing Rodney Bingenheimer just isn’t good. Dana Carvey could have done better. Drummer Don Bolles told OC Weekly a few issues back that he doesn’t like the way he’s portrayed. I asked Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey how accurate he thought things were, and he told me he’d seen the Germs play back in the day, and they didn’t attract large crowds or devoted fans who knew the lyrics, as they do onscreen. Darby’s Oki-Dog fetish is on display, but no-one ever mentions that Oki-Dog used to be a primo gay pickup spot.

Accurate or not, though, the movie has an energy that’s powerful, and the music is great. If it were just a flick about some random punk band, it’d still be better than most...up until the ending, that is.

I’m going to assume that we don’t need to warn about spoilers when discussing a biopic of a dead rock star, right? Okay. So after the final Germs show, that everyone knows is the final Germs show, why does nobody want to party with Darby and celebrate? Are they mad at him? If so, make it evident. And then, the girl who tries to die with Darby -- who is she? This chick who looks kinda like Nancy Spungen/Courtney Love just shows up out of nowhere like we’re supposed to know who she is, which is weird, because every other character announces themselves, like so: “My name’s Penelope Spheeris and I’m making a documentary about punk rock called The Decline of Western Civilization.”

No doubt, all Germs fans know who the woman is -- after Adam Parfrey clarified, I figured out she’d appeared in one previous scene, sporting a totally different hair color. Confusing!

If I knew more about the actual story, this review would have been better, no doubt. But the target audience, I suspect, don’t know much more than I on the subject.

In other movies about depressed young dudes, we have CHARLIE BARTLETT, a comedy in which the title character, a mix of Ferris Bueller and Max Fischer, gets kicked out of a fancy private school and ends up going to regular old high school, where he becomes hugely popular by dealing drugs of the prescription variety and running afoul of the alcoholic principal, played by Robert Downey Jr. Hope Davis plays Charlie’s mom, doing that thing that’s becoming a new cliché these days, the mother who’s always zonked on pills because she’s deeply sad, but only comes off as flighty and indifferent. Leads Anton Yelchin and Kat Dennings are appealing, and while the movie’s not as radical as it seems to think it is, it does keep you guessing how it will all resolve.

Right afterwards I heard the news that WWE superstar Chris Benoit had died in a possible murder-suicide, so I became all depressed too.

And off topic altogether, on the way to the fest the other day I saw something pretty cool -- the Goodyear blimp actually taking off. It was as if someone was throwing a football into outer space, to some invisible giant going way long.

Photo: Shane West via Yahoo

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