When we hear names like Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and Dickhouse Productions, we immediately think outrageous stunts, painful antics and merciless laughter at all the adventure that is Jackass. What we don’t think of is an outrageous family, painful reality and merciless trials of life, but that is what we are given with director Julien Nitzberg’s The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Knoxville and Tremaine were executive producers on this gritty, no-holds-barred, slap in the face documentary illuminating a sector of very real America that most of us never really knew existed.
Focusing on Boone County, West Virginia’s White family, the documentary follows for one year all of the happenings of this colorful, albeit unrefined, family. But rather than fixate on the people themselves, it is more pertinent to discuss the content we as viewers bear witness to than the family itself. The issues this family brings to light are very real and in some cases very difficulty to want to admit exist. In a film less than two hours in length we see them smoking pot, snorting pills, drinking, swearing, flashing, yelling, singing, conversing, shooting, driving, dancing, crying, getting released from jail, going to jail, mourning and narrating their lives.
Part family history, part living history, their tragic lives work to explicitly shine on a part of Americana that most everyday American’s blindly live in ignorance of. We see a family engrained in a life most of us didn’t know existed. In lieu of the recent popularity of Oscar nominated Winter’s Bone, it might be recommended that one watch this film in close proximity. The White family and their way of life is starkly reminiscent of the happenings within the Oscar nominated film.
Sometimes difficult to watch, children play a central role in this film, while hardly being filmed at all. The White family comes with no sugar-coating. They are who they are and could care less about what you think. Because of this, Nitzberg’s camera unobtrusively capture the Whites being themselves. This means watching them do drugs right in front of their children. Or allow their children to smoke and swear. But in the mountain way of life, this is not to be judged. They are doing right by themselves. The same can be said for their way of justice. The Whites are not afraid of the law, or death, or the ramifications of their actions. Their only concern is to live life in their own way.
There is something to be said for who the Whites are. Dickhouse Productions and Nitzberg have done a fine job of putting on display for all to see, a family and way of life that each of us should acknowledge exists. The White family is part of a forgotten world right in our own backyard. The Appalachian people have been a part of who America is for a very long time, and the Whites are here to prove they will be here for a long time to come.