In the big scheme of things, Boone County, West Virginia is just a hop, skip and a jump from Southwest Ohio’s city of Xenia. It is not surprising then, the resemblance between the Appalachian antics of the White family and the actions and mannerisms of many of the characters in Harmony Korrine’s Gummo. As you know, Gummo is one of my favorite movies of all time, in part because of the film’s own wild and wonderful characters, so naturally I also embrace The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. It is like Gummo in actual documentary form.
Jesco White, a.k.a. The Dancing Outlaw, is probably the most famous of the White clan. He has been highlighted in films such as Dancing Outlaw, and continues to be revered as an Appalachian cult icon. Although he is featured in The Wild and Wonderful Whites…, this film focuses even more on the strong women of the White clan, like Mamie White, who is certainly the shit. These matriarchs are just as rough-and-tumble as their brothers, fathers and uncles. This film takes a raw look at their lifestyles, pharmaceutical abuse, parenting techniques and law-breaking ways. It is all at once hilarious and tragic, brutal yet heart-warming as you see the family stick it out together.
There are so many great scenes, including one where a woman getting a tattoo in Bo White’s kitchen has to repeatedly spell out what she wants permanently etched in her arm (her name). Tattoo artist, Derek White has trouble remembering, stating “this is what xanax will do to you,” as he holds the buzzing tattoo gun with a shaky hand. And as sad as it is when Child Protective Services takes custody of Kirk White’s newborn daughter, the decision of her and her sister to go to Taco Bell between this discovery and a night of drinking is also tragically funny.
I give The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia an A-. I would certainly watch it again and buy it. This family would probably kick my ass and make fun of me, but I like to think that I would hang out with them.