2000, NR, 89 min. Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damien Jewan Lee, Paul Schneider, Eddie Rouse, Curtis Cotton III, Rachael Handy, Jonathan Davidson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 23, 2001
Kids teetering on teenagehood and adulthood, an industrialized landscape veering into decay and reclamation by the wild countryside from which it arose, a lyrical Southern tone poem verging on Faulkneresque drama -- all these are the raw elements used by George Washington in its vivid depiction of a group of kids during summer vacation. These predominantly African-American kids between the ages of 8 and 14 are something special, not so much because of who they are and what they do -- very little actually happens -- but because of how the filmmakers open up these lives to us by slowing down our dramatic expectations and drawing us into the rhythms of their language and activities. Candace Evanofski's molasses-toned voiceover narration reminds us of the mournfully matter-of-fact cadences of Linda Manz's voiceover in Days of Heaven, a movie with which George Washington is often compared. The only things the two movies share, however, is a similar tone, a pensive yet peaceful reflection on a moment in time that has passed, and a look that finds the beauty and grace in the plainness of the landscape. Filmed in North Carolina, George Washington's lovely camerawork by Tim Orr locates the cohabiting nuances of the area's simultaneous rural and urban decay. It is a region we rarely see on film, and a region whose children are even less likely to be seen and heard. George Washington delights in their voices, slowing things down to listen to what they -- and even the adults -- have to say. The haunting drone of the music by Michael Linnen and David Wingo handsomely complements the film's ebb and flow. The pace, and what characters say, and how they pass the time, and their geographic influences: These sorts of things, rather than plot, form the real crux of George Washington. And what these kids have to say is eye-opening, especially for those of us weaned on Hollywood's formulaic kid stereotypes. Not exactly miniature adults, this largely pre-teen group nevertheless express themselves with confidence, sensitivity, and honesty. Sometimes, like the scene in which Nasia (Evanofski) and her girlfriends of various ages are combing each other's hair and talking about boys, the maturity of their judgments impresses the viewer. Then, at other times the vastness of what they don't yet know or understand also leaves its mark. The movie has gone out without an MPAA rating, although that decision has more to do with economic choices than any objectionable material it might contain for the PG to PG-13 crowd. First-time feature director David Gordon Green has made a work of uncommon beauty and intelligence, one that is smart enough to trust its characters and the technical contributions of its crew. George Washington tells no lies. (See related stories in this week's Screens section.)