November 10, 2010

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2010)

SO YOU THINK you have some crazy or outrageous people in your family?

Well, if you want to feel like your blood relatives maybe aren’t so bad – and perhaps feel better about yourself as well – come with me to Boone County, West Virginia…


Co-produced by Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia follows the extended, rowdy White family – led by matriarch Mamie and her brother Jesco (who was the subject of his own documentary, The Dancing Outlaw, in 1991). For one year, director Julien Nitzberg follows White family members with names like Bertie Mae, Sue Bob, mother and son Bo and Derek (yep, Bo-Derek), Brandon Poe, Annie Mae, Mousie, Poney, and Little Man. Half of the family are in early graves, while the other half live for the moment – drinkin’, smokin', snortin’, and cussin’ their way through each day.


It could be easy to dismiss The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia as a car-crash TV in the form of an 88-minute movie – especially when witnessing the Whites shooting guns in their backyard, giving each other homemade tattoos, and blatantly abusing both legal and illegal drugs (Derek demonstrates “the Boone County mating call” by shaking a prescription bottle). The final straw for many viewers will probably be the visit to new mom Kirk, who’s snorting crushed pills in her hospital room hours after giving birth to her daughter (the father is her cousin’s former boyfriend).

However, things turn somber when 84-year-old Bertie Mae (Mamie’s mom) suffers a stroke, and – shocker! – Child Protective Services takes away Kirk’s baby. [Side note: You know the Whites are trouble when they’re so familiar with Child Protective Services that they refer to it in shorthand (“CPS”).] And how does Kirk cope with losing her baby? She gets drunk and snorts crushed pills at the local bar with Annie Mae and Sue Bob.

Between scenes, director Nitzberg and editor Ben Daughtrey make the fades to black last a few seconds longer than the usual motion picture – making you anticipate, and possibly dread, what outrageous escapade the Whites will be involved with next. And with every one of those fades to black, I had to take a deep breath – sometimes to prepare for what was coming, other times because I forgot to breathe while watching what had just transpired.

An hour of the Whites’ outrageous antics is plenty, something Nitzberg probably understands. Because after the first 60 minutes of Wonderful Whites, he uses the last half hour to focus on some of the repercussions of their behavior – including crushing consequences for Brandon Poe and Kirk – as well as a death in the family.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is equal parts fascinating, repulsive, and depressing. It’s also a hard film to shake, which is a testament to Nitzberg and, for better or for worse, the Whites themselves. This is the best documentary I’ve seen since Man on Wire, which went on to win the 2009 Academy Award. I hope Wonderful Whites is eligible for a 2011 nomination. Nitzberg – and to an extent, the White family – deserve it.


Is it suitable for your kids?
With The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, you’ll be fascinated as a moviegoer but also appalled if you’re a parent. There’s extensive profanity (sometimes in front of children, and sometimes by the children), rampant drug use, male and female nudity, and bloody crime scene photos of poor souls who crossed the Whites.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She may be repulsed by what she sees in The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, but that’s part of the power of this film. I’d recommend she watch it – if anything (like I mentioned at the beginning), it’ll make her feel better about her own family tree.

Believe it or not, their family tree actually forks.
(Click to view larger image)

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
* Director: Julien Nitzberg
* Stars: The wild and wonderful White family, Hank Williams III
* MPAA Rating: N/A

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Kal said...

I loved Man on Wire. I will probably like this one too because I loves me some hillbilly trash. I just have a thing for movies or TV shows like the 'Real Housewives' or 'Teen Mom' where people make really bad decisions and are totally clueless about the wreck their lives are. It makes me feel good about myself because no matter how bad I think I got it, I am nothing like the people on the TV box.

Retro Hound said...

I hate this kinda stuff. When I was in the Army, the guys from West Virgina were the ones to be wary of, more than Tennessee or even Detroit. I know too many people around my area that are making wrecks of their lives and can't even see it.

Bob Ignizio said...

Good review. I didn't like it quite as much, probably due to having gotten a healthy dose of the White family already from seeing 'The Dancing Outlaw', but this is still a fascinating film in its own right.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen it but what do you mean bloody crime scene photos of people that have crossed the whites? Did they kill people?

FilmFather said...

Kal - yeah, there is something about movies like this that can give you a superiority complex -- or at least, like you said, make you feel like your life's not so bad after all.

Retro Hound - jeez, West Virginians are even worse than folks from Detroit? Maybe we need to send Robocop down to WV after he's done cleaning up Old Detroit and Delta City...

Bob - I do feel the need to check out The Dancing Outlaw after seeing The Wonderful was that original doc that made Johnny Knoxville want to do a full-length feature about the White family.

Anonymous - yeah, some of the Whites have killed people, though it escapes me as to which Whites...I think one of them was Sally Mae Jim Bob Willie White...

Surfer Jay said...

That was rad.

If ever you had a doubt about the authenticity of Jerry Springer, just watch the Whites, and you will know those people really do exist. And I've never heard a little kid talk about slitting throats so much before. I think that back country is where our great serial killers are raised.

The wife and I watched it. Most entertaining documentary, ever.

And I think the uh, legacy of Hank Williams has died with his grandson, considering he hangs out with Jesco and fam.

As much as I thuroughly enjoyed watching this, I must say that it scares me that this sort of material is out there for people to watch. I liken it to the show Intervention. It's my favorite show, I am fascinated with the topic from an educational stand point, and one I can relate too. Viewed by young people, such as teenagers, it could be a bad thing. When teenagers hear about a new way to get high, or new ways to degrade themselves in a seemingly fun manner, they tend to want to try it, rather than realizing it's dangers and fear it. As has been proved time again when the news talks about huffing or other ways to get high. There is an outbreak in the method among teenagers.

But that's where I am conflicted. I love watching it. But I don't think other people should. Sort of like violent movies and video games. I love them, but when a kid from the ghetto sees and plays it, he wants to emmulate it.

Anyway, you catch my drift. It was still awesome.

Anonymous said...

I love you Sue Bob. I think your very sexy.


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