March 30, 2023

GFF 2016 Review – James White


James White.
Low-key observational drama James White was a quiet favourite of Sundance 2015 and the debut feature from writer-director Josh Mond finally edges closer to its April DTV release in the UK. It is tragic that this will be buried on video on demand services as Mond has crafted a stirring portrait of familial struggle and the fear of facing up to maturity that is likely to resonate with many a viewer.

Twenty-something New Yorker James’s (Christopher Abbott) life falls into disarray as he loses his father and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) is diagnosed with cancer. After years of freeloading off his parents, James is forced to try and find some stability in his life as he begins to lose control.

Opening with James at a nightclub whilst his late Father’s Shiva takes place, Mond’s film initially crafts its protagonist as unreliable, emotionally-immature, and generally self-serving – although it’s more complex than that. There’s a sadness about the character who is unable to cope with the crushing emotional demands of these occasions and unable to commit to a job, his family or a relationship, despite a clear love for those around him – sweetly depicted in a complex performance from Abbott who manages to channel the quiet agony of someone struggling with the loss of one parent, whilst gradually losing the other.

Mond’s narrative focuses on James’s attempts to keep things together, but losing focus through the pressures of various curveballs. Yet Mond hasn’t crafted a simple victim-centric narrative – James is a problematic character, throwing continual excuse to every problem that comes his way – the repeated phrase “I’m just trying to get some help here” doubles as a cry of a desperate man yet also a frustrating reminder of someone used to avoiding responsibility. As the narrative progresses, the emotional transition of Mond’s protagonist becomes refreshing as his faces up to the often grim responsibilities of life – here his fierce loyalty to his family in crisis becomes fully apparent.

James White is grounded in two sublime performances with Abbott and Nixon soaring with Mond’s punchy material. There’s a quiet sadness about James subtlety played by Abbott who captures the mounting pressures faced by the struggling twenty-something. This is complimented by Nixon as the previously full of life Gail White, who grows further dependant on her son as her health worsens. The latter stages of the film are somewhat harrowing in their emotionally-charged depiction of the cancer process as the independent Gail becomes less so – forcing James to step-up.

James White is an impressive indie that is likely to resonate with viewers in their twenties thanks to stirring performances from Abbott and Nixon.

Andrew McArthur

Drama | USA, 2015 | 15 | Soda Pictures | Glasgow Film Festival | April 2016 (UK) | Dir.Josh Mond | Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston, Makenzie Leigh,David Call