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Movie Review: 'The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia'

June 24, 2010

Move over Osbournes, hit the road Kardashians, there's a new dysfunctional, reality TV-ready family in town: a lawless bunch of self-described "just right down dirty white good old people hillbillies" and the stars of the nutty, oddly involving documentary "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." Director Julien Nitzberg aimed a judgment-free camera at the notorious White clan, which has wreaked havoc across West Virginia's isolated Boone County ever since the family's mountain dancing patriarch, Donald Ray, left the coal mines and learned to work the system.

The late "D. Ray" (he was murdered in 1985) and his wife, Bertie Mae, who is still kicking at age 85 as the movie opens, had a whole mess of kids, a startling number of whom died young and violently. The surviving offspring, including famed "dancing outlaw" Jesco, along with their children and grandchildren, are followed in all their chaotic, impoverished glory as they face a year's worth of births, deaths, prison time, rehab, estranged spouses and more, all accompanied by an unrepentant heap of drinking, drugging, cussing and snarling.

The movie starts out like gangbusters, thanks to its instant immersion into such a riveting train wreck of an environment, but loses some of its anarchic steam as it goes. Still, it's a dang good bet you've never met any family quite like the Whites.

—Gary Goldstein

"The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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