Who hasn’t chopped down a cherry tree in order to prove that they couldn’t tell a lie? Wasn’t true? Oh, whatever!
A group of young kids ranging from the ages of 9 to 13, all live in a small, terribly depressed rural community in North Carolina. Most of these kids’ days are spent running around and causing all sorts of havoc in trailer-parks, garages, abandoned buildings, swimming pools, and practically anywhere else in this place that they can find and have some peace and quiet with. And for the most part, they aren’t really doing anything bad or terribly immoral; they’re just acting like kids. They hit, make fun of, and play around with one another, but mostly all of them are friends, which is why they continue to hang around each other, just about each and everyday. Then again, there’s not much else to do in this tiny-town, so they might as well, right? Well, things get shaken-up a bit for this group of kids when a tragedy accidentally happens to one of the kids, leaving most of them in shock and without even the faintest idea of what to do next. One kid in particular, George (Donald Holden), sees this as a way for him to break out of his shell and become what he’s always wanted to be: a hero. Eat your heart out, Bowie.
Before he started smoking all sorts of weed with Judd Apatow’s crew, writer/director David Gordon Green was in fact a young, small-time film maker just trying to get his name and his vision out there for the world to see. And finally, after years and years of short films in his native Texas, he got a chance to, at 25 years of age, to show everybody his debut, his vision. What’s surprising the most about this movie, and the fact I pointed out about Green being 25 around the time of this being made, is how it feels like it could have easily done by a much older, much more skilled-professional. Not just in the way the movie looks, sounds, feels, and moves, but of the themes it deals with.
Sure, the movie disguises itself as dealing with kids, in the same vein as something like Stand By Me, but this is very far from that type of movie. Kids do talk like kids and mess around with one another, but most of them are just trying to grow-up and grasp whatever it is that life has thrown at them. Doesn’t matter if it’s something they are imagining in their heads to block-out the harsh realities of what their lives have turned-out to be; or even if what it is that they’re imagining is real and they don’t know what to do with it. Either way, these kids are growing up in front of our faces and trying to get a firm grip on their lives from when they were just small tikes and had no idea what was up with the world, to now, where all of a sudden, everything is happening so quickly and so unexpectedly.
Watching these kids talk, goof around, run around, cause mischief, talk to girls, get upset, have all sorts of feelings, and just basically be kids, made me feel like a kid again. Which I don’t think is what Green wasn’t trying to do; it’s clear from the fore-front that he’s going for as much of a gritty, realistic display as much as he can possibly do. Most of it works, but some of it really does back-fire on him, especially in terms of how terrible some of the improvisation from these young kids can be.
And no, I am not trying to rag on these kids who were clearly inexperienced and literally working in their first, and for some, possibly last movie ever, but it’s up to Green when using these kids, to know if they can handle improv or not. The fact of the matter is simple: They can’t. Though most of these kids do try and seem real, mainly whenever they’re given free reign to go on and on about girls, sometimes they stumble and seem like they’re not really going anywhere with what they’re saying. Even worse is the fact that some of what it seems like Green has written for these kids to say and try to emote with, doesn’t make them always seem like kids. They’re basically a bunch of a 9-to-13-year-olds going through existential crisis, but not much of it rings true.
Once again, that’s not to hate on the kids in the roles, as much as it’s Green’s fault for not taking notice to this problem and coming up with a way to fix it. But, to be honest, there’s a few more problems going on here for Green than I would like to speak-out against, but hell, so be it!
The movie is downright beautiful in the way it’s camera is positioned in certain scenes, how well the narration from this 13-year-old girl is, and how the new-agey soundtrack makes me feel as if I was meditating. Together, all elements fit perfectly and made me feel like I was in a museum, gazing at all of the art-work that was on display. However, rather than having some annoying, nuisance-of-a-tour-director constantly in my ear, nagging on and on about “HOW SIGNIFICANCE THIS PAINTING IS WHEN COMPARED TO MODERN-DAY CULTURE”, I had the sound of somebody who was just speaking to us as if she just met us and we were asking her to try and tell us a story. Any story, it didn’t matter. I loved that feel with this movie, and it’s so easy to see why Green was the talk-of-the-town when he first came around, getting all sorts of Malick-comparisons and what have you.
But, as lovely as all of those details are when looking at this film, I couldn’t help but feel like barely any of it connected with me. With the exception of the tragedy itself (which I won’t dare to spoil), the only time I really felt like this movie’s story gripped me emotionally was whenever Paul Schneider showed his young, blissful face around. Most of that has to do with just how much I actually like Schneider as an actor, but most of it also has to do with the fact that his character is the only one who seems like she would ever pay attention to. Because, quite frankly, except for our hero-of-the-half-hour, George, Green never really focuses on anybody else; and if he does, he doesn’t do it enough to where we feel any plight for them, or the shitty situations they are sometimes thrown in to.
Honestly, I’m all fine with Green flowing by his own set-of-rules and not really bothering with much of a plot-driven narrative, but too much of this feels spontaneous; almost to the point of where it takes away from what could have been a very emotional story, with an impact left on its viewers for days. Instead, some of it just comes off like an experiment of certain moods, feelings and ideas, that never come together fully as a cohesive-structure. It’s just different strands of interesting routes, and that’s about it. Obviously Green would go on with his career to shape some of those problems out, but if I had saw this back when it first came out, I may have not been as happy, or doe-eyed as it seems like every critic on the face of the planet was. Then again though, that was the year 2000, which was also the time before David Gordon Green showed his love for a Minotaur’s Dick.
That was no typo.
Consensus: For somebody who was as young and promising as David Gordon Green was back when it was first released, George Washington works as a huge set of ideas, that work in their own, small circles, but never fully come together as well as they should to leave any sort of emotional-impact.
7 / 10 = Rental!!