Synopsis by Mark Deming
The true-life story of Darby Crash, who became a Los Angeles punk icon before taking his own life in 1980, provides the background for this gritty musical biopic. Not long after getting kicked out of an experimental high school in Los Angeles, charismatic misfit and major David Bowie fan Jan Paul Beahm (Shane West) announces that he wants to form a rock band. With his best friend Georg Ruthenberg (Rick Gonzalez), Beahm creates a group called the Germs, mainly because their first choice, "Sophistif--k and the Revlon Spam Queens" costs too much to put on a T-shirt. Beahm appoints himself lead singer, Ruthenberg becomes guitarist even though he has no command of the instrument, and Beahm creates new stage names for them -- George becomes Pat Smear, and Jan is now Bobby Pyn. After a few less-than-impressive attempts to putting Beahm's "five-year plan" into action, the Germs begin to click with the addition of sweet but musically inexperienced Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips) on bass and Arizona transplant Don Bolles (Noah Segan) on drums. Bobby Pyn gives himself another new name, Darby Crash, and the Germs become the talk of the Los Angeles punk scene with their reckless but literate songs and Darby's aggressive performance style. The Germs become big fish in the small pond of L.A. punk, but when hard drugs enter into the picture, Darby begins alienating those closest to him, and after the Germs' collapse, he's at a loss for how to bring his grand scheme to the next level. The real Pat Smear served as a music producer for What We Do Is Secret, recreating the sound of the Germs and other seminal L.A. punk groups for the soundtrack, while the surviving members of the Germs played a series of reunion dates following the production of the movie, with Shane West standing in as lead singer.