In many ways, the Minutemen seem like the SoCal punk band least likely to get the documentary treatment--though it's certainly not for lack of merit. It's just that, in many ways, the story of the Minutemen is a pretty uneventful one: Two childhood friends--good-natured, completely unglamorous, and sincere like an open wrist--start a really great band, put out a handful of really great records, quietly influence countless people, and tragically dissolve. Were it not for that "tragically" part, the story of the Minutemen would be almost entirely free of the sort of drama that fuels most great music documentaries--and yet, much to the band's credit, We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen is unequivocally great.
What makes the seemingly mundane story of a couple of corndogs from San Pedro work is exactly what made the Minutemen work--the earnest, heartfelt narrative of two kids who slept, sweat, and shat authenticity. Between archival footage of late vocalist/guitarist D. Boon (whose 1985 death, at the age of 27, accounts for the "tragic" part of this story) and the loving recollections of a now-grandfatherly Mike Watt, it's nearly impossible not to be smitten with the subjects, whose insular language fueled the impenetrably personal politics of the band's discography.
Director Tim Irwin does little to illuminate the secrets of the eclectic band's brief biography--this assuming that there were any secrets--and instead wisely hands the reins over to the oppressively amiable Watt for a fittingly impressionistic view of the band's history, philosophy, and influence. Along for Watt's wild ride are a familiar cast of luminaries who seem to have nothing better to do lately than bulk up their documentary credits--including Thurston Moore, Ian MacKaye, Richard Meltzer, and Flea--along with surviving (and seemingly clueless) Minutemen drummer George Hurley. Though they offer very little insight, the uniformly affectionate interviews solidify the film's labor of love atmosphere--We Jam Econo is, ultimately, a warm, earnest, easily lovable tribute to one of punk's most earnest and easily lovable bands.