George Washington 12 (2000)
Dir: David Gordon Green; Starring: Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damian Jewan Lee, Curtis Cotton III, Rachael Handy, Paul Schneider
Children carrying a film can go one way or the other. Bugsy Malone is up there with the best, Stand By Me is close to perfection, and hell, I’ve even got a soft spot for the inexplicably cute kid from Mrs Doubtfire and Matilda. When directors take a more naturalistic approach is when them youths can really shine, Laurent Cantet’s 2008 subtly brilliant success The Class being a prime example, and in George Washington David Gordon Green does just that, creating a languid, haunting film that has little to do with America’s first President.
Set in North Carolina, the film follows a group of young friends trying to work out who they are and where their lives will end up, though, tellingly, at thirteen the Bonnie and Clyde-esque Vernon (Lee) and Sonya (Hardy) have already predicted the future’s disappointment. The film is narrated by Nasia (Evanofski), a thirteen-year-old going on twenty-five, who’s patient, southern drawl provides shrewd insights into their positions. Nasia has just broken twelve-year-old Buddy’s (Cotton III) heart – he’s too young for her, she needs someone more mature – and she pins her hopes on George (Holden) who she sees as a quiet hero. When Buddy is killed during a game, the kids decide to hide the body, and then we see them try and deal with the consequences.
It’s beautifully shot, making the whole film seem like a dream, but it’s the kids’ dreams we are caught up in. There are shots taken from the eyes of the children, into the junkyards around town, the fields, the wastelands, like they’re seeing what their world is about. The slow pace means the film almost drifts by, with simple dialogue and loose narrative. Although it’s not about the Founding Father it is a glimpse at young people who are forced to grow up and realize, among other things, that the American Dream might be just that.