Published Nov 17, 2017Jawbreaker were one of those rare bands that successfully demonstrated exactly how clever, poetic and downright respectable pop-punk could be. Though the genre has since been absorbed by the mall, they managed to balance DIY politics with genuinely interesting compositions, influencing an entire generation of music along the way. Then, after signing to a major label and alienating their fans, they crashed and burned.
Don't Break Down, a documentary from Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron, attempts to pick up the pieces. Framed around an in-studio reunion of members Blake Schwarzenbach, Chris Bauermeister and Adam Pfahler in 2007, the film utilizes a hefty amount of tour footage from Jawbreaker's '90s heyday while also offering some filming completed ahead of the band's unexpected 2017 reunion show.
It's visually comprehensive, though the 10-year gap between talking-head interviews suggest this project spent a decade in development hell and was quickly completed to capitalize on the band's Riot Fest appearance. The surplus of footage and interviews (including notable figures like Billie Joe Armstrong, Jessica Hopper and Steve Albini) results in some awkward editing as quotes fade into one another.
The film also feels slightly unfocused. On one hand, it serves as a primer on Jawbreaker, from conception to implosion, but the film also tries to contextualize their place in punk and alt-rock while exploring the band member's complex interpersonal relationships. That last point in particular is difficult to explore, since Schwarzenbach is painfully guarded and Bauermeister has a tendency to overshare, leaving Pfahler as the most enjoyable member to watch onscreen.
For all of its flaws, though, Don't Break Down still manages to do justice to its subjects. Whether you're a Jawbreaker obsessive or just a casual punk fan, the film is an audio-visual feast of '90s pop-punk, offering plenty of ancient merch artifacts and warbly VHS footage of the iconic group. If also works for non-punk fans, delving into the post-Nirvana major label feeding frenzy of the mid '90s.
At times, it seems Irwin and Schieron bit off more than they could chew, and the film often feels like a collection of scenes tumbling into one another rather than a more comprehensive rock doc. That said, while it's far from perfect, Don't Break Down is a fascinating and ambitious film that's incredibly fun to watch.
(The September Club)