With all the unlawful activities the family at the center of “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” participates in, you might think you know everything you need to about everybody even before the title comes up. Never mind what all the lawyers and police officers in town have to say in the opening scenes, though – beyond all the drugs and disorderly conduct and court dates and prison sentences lies a real family with real desires and fears, one that knows there’s a time to paint the town red and a time to get serious.
That shouldn’t suggest that they take life too seriously, though. While there are too many family members here to count (many of them were adopted by the same family), the one thing they have in common is their lust for life, something that’s gotten them in trouble more than a few times. Not that they’re especially ashamed of the things they do – they’ve got so many favorite drugs and stories of fistfights that there doesn’t seem to be anything in the world they like better. The film is so fascinated with their mischief, in fact, that the most accomplished member of the family, Jesco White, doesn’t get to talk much about his life’s work: The preservation of a rare form of tap dancing.
The rhythms of everyday life are so extreme here that it’s anyone’s guess how the film manages to switch gears when the going gets rough, particularly the parts that take a look at Kirk, a mother who fights with Child Protective Services over her baby. Considering how big her family is on liquor and narcotics, you can probably see why CPS wants to take its newest member away, but that doesn’t make her reaction to the news any less devastating. While most of the other Whites have their own sad stories, what’s even worse than the hardships they have to deal with is the way they drown their misery in more alcohol.
Still, seeing them stick together is kind of touching, particularly since there aren’t too many crowds they’d blend into as well as this one. Though everybody else in their little corner of West Virginia can’t stand being around a family this rambunctious, all of those disparaging remarks and leers don’t mean that much to the Whites at the end of the day, since they live in a closed system where all that matters is how they live together. The family that has run-ins with the law together stays together, I guess.