Rating: B-/ Some Spoilers Ahead. Read at your own Risk. Eight years before he made the mediocre (and utterly mainstream) stoner comedy Pineapple Express, filmmaker David Gordon Green directed his first feature, a very different affair entirely. This movie, George Washington, is a very slow, abstract, and mysterious mood piece about a group of kids coming of age in rural North Carolina.It held me at a distance, I never fell irrevocably in love with it, but at the same time I appreciated it’s refusal to be anything but a true original. Twelve-year-old Nasia (Candace Eavanofski)’s lilting monologue drips off her tongue like honey; everything- the dialogue, the characters, the brooding atmosphere, is presented in a way that was both real and unreal; natural and absurd, almost dreamlike in it’s unrelenting strangeness. In the end it is a movie that has kind of a idyllic quality in terms of how the characters see each other, yet it was very bleak at the same time. In the end, I can’t urge you to see this movie or advise you to stay away from it, you have to decide for yourself. You know what you like. It’s strange, that’s all, occasionally beautiful, but extremely odd in it’s execution.
One long, hot summer, four kids (three black, one white) navigate their impoverished rural surroundings with eyes that have not yet been touched with experience. There’s Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee,) a big black kid with an equally big mouth, skinny, bespectacled Buddy (Curtis Cotton III,) whose girlfriend Nasia, the film’s catalyst and narrator, has just broken up with him for acting like ‘too much of a little kid’, and George (Donald Holden,) has an incredibly soft skull and is technically not supposed to swim and horse play, although that doesn’t always stop him. George is hiding a stray dog out back behind his house because his twisted uncle (Eddie Rouse) has a habit of brutalizing and killing animals, especially dogs. The boys hang out with Sonya (Rachael Handy), a little white girl from a shitty family, and despite the fact that they continually pick on her, especially Vernon, she is pretty much considered part of the group.
This is the summer that George accidentally kills Buddy and the kids panic and hide the body. This is the summer that George saves a child’s life and becomes obsessed with personal safety, donning a costume like a superhero and directing traffic. This is the summer that the kids split up, Sonya and Vernon turning to petty crime and George finding relative peace through solitude and the doing of good deeds. George Washington is a movie about growing up and learning to live with the things you’ve done. Can one life saved overrule another taken? The kid actors are non-professional, but that doesn’t stop them from having a easiness and a naturalness that puts many thespians their age to shame. Damian Jewan Lee is a stand-out as the rough-and-tumble Vernon.
The movie is a little too weird at times (consider what happens to the stray dog George has come to love) and it isn’t a film I would have the urge to re watch (once is enough for me) but it has a certain something that I’ve never seen before. With sublimely odd characters and strangely lyrical dialogue that reminds me of a Harmony Korine film, George Washington is a triumph of mood and ambiance that is intriguing, if not exactly entertaining. I couldn’t relate to it personally, but it remains an interesting experiment, even if it just kind of ends, with utmost ambiguity.
I’m not a huge fan of vague endings, I know it’s the viewer’s job to fill in the blanks but they tend to leave me a bit cold. If you’re the kind of guy or gal who likes moody, mysterious films with palpable atmosphere, you’re sure to find something good about this dark, slightly eerie independent film. People who are primarily viewers of more straightforward affairs will simply be unnerved and baffled by this profoundly odd, sometimes surrealistic portrayal of four impoverished youths forced to make tough choices over the course of one life altering summer.