You already know the story, even if you've never heard of the Germs. A misunderstood young genius (Here, it's Shane West as Darby Crash) forms a band, goes through a rocky start, and eventually finds fame. Inevitably, he deteriorates in a haze of drugs and self-destruction. Soon, every musical genre will have it's own biopic following this template. We already have country (Walk The Line), post-punk (Control), UK punk (Sid & Nancy), and now, L.A. punk. Up next is polka, with the soon-to-be-released Polish Sausage; The Mitch Wojack Story (assuming the producers can make the necessary cuts to avoid an NC-17 rating. Most likely to see the cutting room floor is the 7-minute polka groupie orgy scene, in which Caligula-like perversions take place to a seductive accordion solo).
To be fair, just because a story is familiar doesn't mean it's not entertaining. Hell, midget porn hasn't had an original plot in decades, yet Americans still clamor for more.
With What We Do Is Secret, the trick is not to watch it as a fan of the Germs. It's too easy to focus on petty details (Shane West pronounces his words too clearly, etc.). After Sid & Nancy was released, Johnny Rotten had numerous complaints regarding the historical accuracy of the film. Well, it wasn't a documentary and it wasn't the story of the Sex Pistols. It was the story of two people. What We Do Is Secret is similar. Yes, it's about the Germs. Yes, it's about Darby Crash. More importantly, it's about a period of time. In that sense, the film's a success.
Shane West is quite good as Darby Crash. At times, though, it's hard to forget that you're watching an actor. He's just too pretty and coherent to capture Darby. Also, Noah Segan's portrayal of drummer Don Bolles as a combination of Bill the Cat and Jeff Spicoli can grow tiresome. Rick Gonzalez does a decent job as Pat Smear, but he seems better suited to his smaller role on television's Reaper. Bijou Phillips was excellent as Lorna Doom. She brought some fun and lightness to an otherwise dark story.
In a way, the Germs were an anti-punk punk band. Darby toyed with fascism, and demanded to be worshipped in a scene that rejected rock stars. The film captures a time that, like the Germs themselves, couldn't last. What We Do Is Secret gives us the excitement of first discovering punk, along with the emptiness of being left behind as something so alive and full of energy eventually dies. Or becomes New Wave. Same thing.
DVD Release Date: 11/4/08