By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) -
There are a lot of directions a feature film adaptation of the PBS documentary Dancing Outlaw and the life of Jesco White could have gone. If you’re an idiot, there’s some easy comedy to be mined from dancing hillbillies and spousal abuse. Or you could go the Winter’s Bone route and shoot for some Oscars.
Yeah, this probably coulda used more dancin’
Or, if you’re awesome, you can go full-on, muthafuckin’ method and grab your camera , a backpack full of model airplane glue, and a couple of Big Gulps’ worth of bathtub crank and see what happens. The makers of White Lightnin’ appear to be exactly that kind of awesome.
The film follows Jesco White from his paint and gasoline-huffing childhood, through his, surprise! asylum stay, and then on into adulthood, where he becomes a local tap-dancin’ sensation and general ne’er do well until tragedy sets in, then, well, that’s when the impurities from the bathtub rust take effect…
… and shit gets real
Right from the beginning sequence, overlaid with narration from some kid delivering a spot-on Jesco White impression, somehow, you can tell you’re in for something different. The first twenty minutes, recounting Jesco’s rip-roarin’, lighter fluid-pilferin’ childhood, are pure gold, as the filmmakers interweave that narration, cunningly deployed music, and snappy editing into what would stand as one of the best short films I’ve ever seen if it was just that.
The film unfortunately suffers a bit once we got around to adult Jesco, which certainly isn’t the lead, Edward Hogg’s (Anonymous), fault. His performance is all tics, crazy eyes, and impeccably deliveredWest Virginia hillbilly accent, which is especially impressive when you learn he’s English. Part of the drop off is the necessary drama that seeps in, which is fine when you consider… Holy shit, is that Carrie Fisher?
I had no idea Time took things so personally
As the movie goes along things start to unglue along with the protagonist’s psyche, and the violence escalates some of it, like when we learn just how inelastic a head meets glass ashtray reaction really would be, is kinda awesome.
Unfortunately, this is where the flick starts teetering over the line between portrayal and parody. A good time to reach for this beer is when Fisher gets up to sing a country tune in her K-Mart brand “Magic Unicorn” sweatshirt. Maybe weep a few tears into it before you take a sip.
You’re already trying to find where to buy this, aren’t you? You Goddam hipster.
The ending is pretentious bullshit of the worst sort. What? I have to elaborate? Fine. Slasher Violence. Pseudo-Biblical Rambling. Hallucinations. Christ Imagery. Fade to Sky. Just be drunk already, Okay?
This is wacked out, grotesque, and just about eh best way imaginable to adapt the Jesco White story into a feature film. Grab some magic markers, a gas-soaked rag, or, if you insist, a few beers and hunt this bastard down on Netflix or Amazon tonight.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time there’s dancing
Take a Drink: every time there’s huffing
Take a Drink: every time a gun is wielded or shot
Do a Shot: I’m a sea turtle!