We don’t land in the land of documentaries too often on Required Viewing. And that’s probably because not too many documentaries pack the jaw-dropping, can’t-look-away fascination that The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia does. Normally, we don’t provide too much background on our picks as they tend to be pretty well known. But this one is a bit of a deep cut. So, AM, before you give us your initial impression and venture a guess as to why I had you watch this movie, tell our dear sweet readers what exactly we’re talking about here.
A: This is a film about a family who isn’t rich, who love themselves drugs and alcohol, and generally don’t give a shit. They have a damn good time, they are kind of a hot mess, and they fiercely protect their own. Not normal, maybe, but they are interesting to watch. And they love to dance. The other two necessary bits of context are that the film was produced by Johnny Knoxville’s company Dickhouse Productions, and that it centers around the children of D.Ray and Bertie Mae White, including their son, Jesco White, the star of the Dancing Outlaw documentary.
Being a documentary about a year in the life of a family, there’s not too much plot to speak of, but Brooke, do fill us in on any other required details for our lovely readers.
Now, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand a damn word anyone was saying, but I’ve never appreciated subtitles more than I did here. I am also assuming you made me watch this as a cautionary tale never to do heroin, but I think that ship has sailed for me, thankfully. It’s fascinating and tragic, and you shouldn’t want to watch people fall apart, but you watch anyway. If anything, it does make me feel lucky for the opportunities I’ve been afforded as well as happier about every decision I’ve ever made.
Brooke, who is your favorite family member and why?
B: Before I answer that question, I’m going to clarify a thing for people who don’t know you. When you say that the “heroin ship” has sailed for you, you do not mean it’s too late and you’re already shooting up on the reg. You mean that you’re at a point in your life when you’re not inclined to experiment with substances. I just wanted to be extra clear, on that, because I’m such a good friend.
Now that we’ve sorted that, I’ll answer your question. My favorite family member is Mamie. I love that she declares herself the “biggest and baddest” and that she gives that breathless and incredibly detailed run-down of all the deaths in the family in one of the opening scenes. She seems to always be in the mix on everything, and though I am confident that I probably wouldn’t do well in the White family dynamic, if I were thrown in, I would want to be in the know. Can you imagine the HOT GOSS that flies around that clan? We couldn’t handle it.
There is so much that is deeply alarming happening in this movie, but there’s something incredibly endearing about the way that this family has each other’s back. I think that’s what hooks me in every single time I watch The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. As much as they paint themselves to be outlaws (and they are in many ways), it’s impossible not to cheer for them. For instance, when the family comes together to drive Kirk several hours to check into rehab, they pick up what seems like half-a-dozen people along the way, all of whom join the voyage to support her. There’s something so pure about that gesture that I can’t get over it.
And speaking of things I can’t get over, let’s talk about some of the more jaw-dropping moments in this movie. I’ll start us off. How about the time Mousie gets out of jail and she hits the town to look for her husband, Charles, “a liar and a cheat,” who cheated on her with her cousin, Kirk, but is now living with another woman. Your thoughts. I need them.
A: Yes, thank you for clarifying my “ship has sailed” comment. For the record, I have never tried heroin and now I have even more reasons (besides being an adult) not to. Whew.
The convoluted relationships are a thing of beauty here, that’s for sure. I love that Mousie aggressively browbeats Charles into getting back together. I love that all of the ladies have the worst taste in men ever, but they’re what they’ve got, and they take extreme pride in their abilities to re-capture, if not keep, a man.
My favorite is Kirk. She can’t keep her newborn baby girl because of drugs, but I also absolutely loved that she got herself to rehab and I genuinely hope she stays clean and keeps her kids. It also makes me wonder, what makes the men of the Whites so deadbeat? Is it the cheating (because the gals seem to have some fidelity issues as well)? Is it the drugs (again, literally everyone is doing all the drugs all the time)? Are they not employed? I couldn’t figure out much of what anyone actually did for a living, outside of (you guessed it), drugs.
I also want to talk about the “outlaw” thing. Outside of one minor standoff with the police, is anyone really a hardened criminal? Are their crimes to the level of “outlaw?” I need opinions.
B: I too, hope that Kirk stuck with rehab and built the future she wanted for her kids — just like Poney, the one White who left for Minneapolis and was doing just fine, or so we’re told. To be clear, “just fine” is basically 1,000 gold stars compared to what’s happening with the rest of the family.
I too don’t fully understand what they do for money, other than hustle. But one component is that when D.Ray was still alive, he figured out how to get money from the government for his whole family. I think it’s Mamie who explains that he had them all declared crazy, or some other such status, so that they get some amount distributed to them. This, we’re told, was his reaction to the mining company more or less enslaving people by paying them low wages and setting up what basically amounted to monopolies in the company stores. So there’s definitely an outlaw lineage to their family to start with.
Now, is the “minor standoff” with police you refer to the altercation that Sue Bob’s son Brandon had with Mamie’s boyfriend Billie Hastings? Because Brandon got sentenced to 50 years for attempted murder and did shoot at the cops before being brought into custody, so … that seems significant. But the real outlaw moments, I think, are best detected in some of the toss-away lines the Whites share. Like the rundown of how several members of the immediate family were murdered. Or the casual reference to rather long stretches in jail. Or the fact that Kirk says she stabbed her ex, Dennis, when she found out he cheated on her. The drinks and the drugs may just be a bit of rock-and-roll attitude, but there’s some real lawlessness here to back this up. Oh yeah, and Jesco got shot in the neck during the disturbance that ended up with D.Ray dead. I think some of the bombastic outlaw style is a bit of a choice on the part of the family, to embrace their reputation, but there doesn’t seem to be too much exaggeration in their legend.
Okay, another scene I want to revisit. Kirk, reeling from not being able to take her baby home, goes out with Mousie (or was it Mamie?! or both?!) and Sue Bob and the three of them get down. We learn a lot during this sequence, including Sue Bob’s reputation as the sexiest member of the family. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my family has that particular power ranking established. More thoughts, give ’em!
A: I do remember that scene in question, and if you’re not the sexiest, you can be the baddest or the biggest! As mentioned before, these ladies know how to drink. A lot. Plus whatever else they’re doing. My family doesn’t have those power rankings firmly established either. Do you suppose that some fierce arguing happened to establish the hierarchy? Or did Mamie just declare herself the Biggest and everyone else just came up with something?
You’re also right that the “minor standoff” was me heavily downplaying the criminal element of the White family. They’re legitimately up to illegal activities, but they seem to be slightly ignored by the local cops. We watch Live PD, we know that the police deal with the same group of people over and over, and obviously here, those frequent fliers are the Whites.
Since the aesthetic of this film was so different than most we watch, our usual questions about wardrobe and scenery are largely mute points. So let’s look at another angle here. If you had to turn to a life of crime, what sorts of shenanigans would you get up to?
B: Listen, we both know I am an anxious person, so I probably wouldn’t do very well in most of your criminal lines of work/entertainment. I’m quite positive that I cannot keep up with the Whites partying ways, so I think I would have to go for something low-key and kind of solo. So … forgery? I probably don’t have deft enough hands or skills for that. Hmm, maybe I would start a pyramid scheme? Or perhaps I would just be the brains of the operation and dispatch the Whites to do all the wild and crazy bits for me. One thing is for sure, I would definitely get them to teach me how to fight in case they drug me to a bar to have “fun.”
Back to you AM, what would your life of crime entail? Will you fill your forever role of being the senior to my freshman and dragging me into more interesting shenanigans than I’ve outlined above?
A: I don’t know that I have any more of a criminal mind than you do, but I think it would be fun to wear disguises and do some Robin Hood-style rob the rich shenanigans. Maybe not unlike the Bling Ring? We’d be smarter about it and not actually hang out in Paris Hilton’s house, thereby exponentially increasing our chances of getting away with it. I would steer quite clear of anything to do with guns or drugs, so our shenanigans would be PG at most/best. Let’s face it, we’re not badass enough to roll with the wild and wonderful Whites of West Virginia.
With the next installment, we’re going the exact opposite of the Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, which is to say into a 1980 romance starring two actors you’re probably heard of but might not have seen in anything lately.