The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]
Director: Julien Nitzberg
Genre: Documentary
Language: English
Country: USA

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is a documentary about the infamous White family that lives in rural Boone County, West Virginia. The Whites are “famous” because of Jesco White, a member of the family who was the star of an old PBS documentary called “Dancing Outlaw” that showcased his tap dancing skills. This documentary was created to tell the story of the rest of the family.

The Whites are a colorful bunch who don’t give a shit about the law. They are drug abusers, harbringers of violence, frequent adulterers, occasional murderers, and just all-around hellraisers. Basically, they are just like a number of other redneck families in the United States. I have seen a lot of families just like the Whites; they really are a dime a dozen in certain rural areas. One of the local attorneys who was interviewed in the film said it best: there are far more important people who could use a documentary than these folk.

The film has some entertaining moments — an 85th birthday celebration for the matriarch of the family leads to a crazy coke-and-pills binge (which she is ashamed of), and listening to Jesco talk about his mental problems is unbelievable (apparently he is missing part of his brain due to 10+ years of gas huffing). There are other moments that are unbelievably pathetic, such as when one of the women gives birth to a child, snorts crushed-up pills immediately after, then wonders why her child is taken away by protective services. To her credit, the loss of her child finally pushed her into rehab, but you can’t help but feel that by moving back home she will undoubtedly fall into the same junkie habits she had before.

It really is a shame that director Julien Nitzberg decided to spend more time glorifying this family (he was also an associate producer on the aforementioned Dancing Outlaw documentary). I will give him credit for crafting a well-made film, but I just can’t help but feel there are more worthy subjects to document. If you have never been exposed to rural redneck/hillbilly folk like this, you will probably get more mileage out of Wild and Wonderful than me. For me, this was a mere reminder of just how many other families live like this in the U.S.