Friday, January 16, 2009

George Washington

Written and Directed by: David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green seems poised for mainstream success with his excellent work on Pineapple Express. Regardless of what you think of that film, you can't deny that it looked beautiful, and it opens up a whole new career path for him as a hired hand. His impeccable direction got me curious, so I finally sought out his highly-acclaimed debut, George Washington. I didn't really know what to expect from it or what it was supposed to be about, so I sat down and strapped myself in for the ride.

What I got was one of the most beautiful, true portraits of America I've ever seen. Green's script is so thematically rich and universal it deserves immediate canonization into the pantheon of great cinematic portraits of American life, alongside Killer of Sheep and Do The Right Thing. It's stark, understated feel and documentary-like look only add to its realism; at certain points you begin to wonder if this is fiction at all.

George Washington focuses on a group of 5 black and white pre-teens growing up in the rural decay of Appalachia over the course of one summer. As the summer wears on, they will, although they don't realize it, slowly mature in a world that requires them to age too quickly. The events of the film are largely seen through the POV of Naisha, a 12-year old who narrates the film with voice-overs that alternate between exposition, character insight, and even random musings.

At the start of the film, Naisha dumps the loving but boring Buddy for the bizarre yet poetic George, a delicate boy who can play no sports or even submerge his head in water because the plates of his skull never fused when he was a baby. Buddy's friend Vernon tries to intervene and convince Naisha to return to her ex-. Vernon is never mean about it (though he does insult George a little), but that's only because he's protective of his friend, and also of Sonya, the youngest of the bunch. There's an innocence to these friendships tempered with the maturity that comes with forming true bonds; in a world that seems to have so little to offer them, the relationships between these five are their only marks on the planet.

Though essentially plotless, the film moves through a handful of events. But these serve to highlight the real messages of the film, those of poverty and race relations, of youth alienation and perplexity. Buddy, languishing in the grief of unrequited love, takes to wearing a dinosaur mask and delivers a soliloquy worthy of Shakespeare, had Shakespeare come from the rural South. Later, following a sudden and shocking tragedy, Vernon delivers one of his own. That these poor, young kids can deliver such poignancy and still seem like real people is testament not only to Green's deft hand but the charm and believability of the non-professional actors.

The tragedy of the film gets offset somewhat when George performs a heroic action, and we see that the adults of this world are as confused as the children. It all boils down into a minimalistic portrait of real life. No one has all the answers and the youth aren't as naive as you might think. As for the title? As best I as I can figure, George morphs into such a leader as the titular American hero, capable of inspiring these directionless youth and maybe adding a dash of hope in their lives. If the film meanders in places, it is because the characters, as in real life, don't have a clue where life will take them. Beautifully shot and poignantly written, George Washington is an absolute treat.

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