“George Washington,” written and directed by David Gordon Green in 2000, is the story of a group of friends in small, depressed Smalltown, U.S.A. They play near railroad tracks, in abandoned buildings, and pick up stray animals as pets. They’re happy enough, but only because they are right at the point before they realize their lives aren’t going anywhere.
In the beginning, the focus shifts between the characters, but for the most part, is divided between two friends; Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), who is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, Nasia (Candace Evanofski), in the opening scene, and George (Donald Holden), a soulful boy with a soft head that prevents him being a kid with full abandon (and who is also the object of Nasia’s affections).
The first part is just getting to meet these kids, and while they’re an interesting bunch, and a group of kids that can act like kids, it takes one dramatic turn, a death, to get the story going. At times the wait for the story felt endless, but that buildup is the story’s strong point, because without that extra time, we wouldn’t care about what happens to them.
As can be expected, the rest of the film has to do with their reactions to the above death. Withdrawal, grief and numbness all play their part, but the biggest surprise is how the idea of heroism comes into the picture. We all have heroes in our lives, but for these kids, who dread the idea of depending on the adults around them, heroes exist only in the abstract.
Their heroes are long dead historical figures, or musicians, or athletes, never the adults living among them. Here is the missing piece in their lives, where the lack of hope comes from. The kids have a genuine need for a hero that just goes unfilled until an unlikely character steps in and becomes one. As you can tell, I’m desperately tiptoeing around the plot because the shocks and surprises in “George Washington” should be shocking and surprising, just like real life.
“George Washington” has a lot in common with a picture I reviewed earlier, “Killer of Sheep,” even down to both films being directorial debuts. “Killer of Sheep” was a bit aimless for me, and while I found the story interesting, it didn’t engage me, but fortunately, “George Washington” doesn’t have those problems. A slow starter for sure, but it holds your heart in its teeth until the hopeful, not bitter, end.
“George Washington” (2000)
Written and directed by David Gordon Green
Starring: Curtis Cotton III (Buddy)
Donald Holden (George)
Candace Evanofski (Nasia)