In 2004, Green Day invited filmmaker John Roecker into the studio to film the making of what would go on to become its career redefining, Grammy-winning rock opera “American Idiot.”
The finished film was screened just once in 2009 before a crowd of fewer than 500 people before the release of the band’s follow-up album “21st Century Breakdown” and was never shown again. That changed on Thursday night, however, and “Heart Like A Hand Grenade” finally screened in theaters nationwide, including Tempe Marketplace.
Described by Roecker in a director’s statement as being “a fly-on-the-wall art house piece," the film follows the band through the recording process of the album. It also features some of the only known footage from the band’s first live performance of the album. Guided by the record, the movie shows the band working on a certain track and then a video of them performing it. While it was cool to see this footage I can’t help but feel like it detracted from the film as a whole.
The inside-the-studio looks seem to fall by the wayside because of the excessive amount of concert footage. Sure, there is some fascinating stuff there (seeing the band meet to create the iconic cover art is among the cooler, more unexpected behind the scenes looks), but the footage took away from the film as a whole due to how much of it was used. Every time the film seems to be gearing up towards an in-depth look at the recording of a song, it loses its momentum by showing a performance.
There are times in the film when the band is seen working in the studio on a track while the performances can be heard, and these turn out to be the best use of the live footage. Hearing the songs finalized version but seeing it get put together was fascinating, and I only wish the film had done more of that or just cut some of the performance footage as a whole.
The film jumps right into things, starting on day one of the album’s nine month recording process, but never really finds a narrative groove due to the concert footage. It does, however, do an excellent job of showcasing the personalities of the band.
Front man Billie Joe Armstrong comes off as a lovable, creative individual. Pieces of the film shows him tweaking parts to a song or trying to figure out a lyric by playing acoustically are some of the film’s best.
Bassist Mike Dirnt seems perhaps like the most relatable member of the band, and his love of music is exuberant. Though he works hard at what he does, it’s clear he absolutely loves it.
Drummer Tre Cool is the black sheep of the group. He is a hardworking weirdo who seems like a mix of Dirnt and Armstrong’s personalities. He provides some of the film’s biggest laughs, most of which come from him saying whatever bizarre thing was on his mind at the time.
Seeing the film in a crowded theater with people who love the band as much as I do was an awesome experience, but also a slightly odd one. With people jamming out around me to every track, it made it hard for me to forget that in the footage being shown, the album was not the smash hit it is today and that nobody had heard the songs before.
Overall, “Heart Like A Hand Grenade” does feature some really interesting footage, but for those who are not die-hard fans of the band, it ultimately falls a bit short. While it’s not a bad film by any means, it gets looses what made it sound so interesting: exclusive studio time during the recording of one of the biggest albums of the last decade.