Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston, Makenzie Leigh
I can appreciate what writer/director Josh Mond was trying to accomplish with his little film James White. It’s actually the type of performance film that offers an upcoming actor like Abbott (A Most Violent Year, All That I Am) a role to cut his teeth on. Mond’s documentary style camera work follows the 28-year-old around, often using extreme close ups (we are talking pores) to maximize Abbott’s expressions, or lack-there-of as we begin to understand the character. The short 90 minute drama isn’t an easy watch, not only dealing with death of a love one, cancer of another, but the trying material is the lead characters refusal to mature into an adult.
James White (Abbott) is late for his father’s Shiva because he was drinking and dancing nearby. Greeted by his mother Gail (Nixon), “If you say you are going to be here, you need to be here”, she whispers, as he meets his father’s wife Karen for the first time. White is pushing 30 with no job, education or place to live. He has slept on his mother’s couch since moving in to take care of her while she deals with cancer. “All you do is take breaks,” she scolds. After the death of his father, James heads to Mexico for a break but his vacation is interrupted when Gail’s cancer returns.
The film has some effective moments but I felt the inability to get lost in the material as it’s constantly reminds us just how much of an independent film it is.
The film begins in November and takes us through five months of James life. The film opens with the extreme close ups, lots of misbehavior and frustrating scenes of this young New Yorker unable to grasp the importance of responsibility. By March the camera has gotten further away from Abbott’s face, his friends and immature actions have subsided as he is forced to face the circumstance of his mother deteriorating state. In the early parts of the film, I had written in my notes the entire project feels amateur, as if Mond doesn’t know how to express the lead character feelings or emotions, so he simply follows him around with a shaky camera. The camera work, editing, visuals and James behavior appear to be all tied together, as the filmmaking style matures along with our lead character.
During the 45-minute mark James White finally reveals itself when he speaks with his mother’s doctor. What the film never offers us is an explanation on why he is so inept to handle adult situations. James White sprints through the subject matter like bullet points, as it explores the grey area of the “boy-man”, someone caught in the middle of adolescence and adulthood. Nixon’s performance is effective, but she is sidelined as the mom with cancer, appearing in one scene during each monthly period. The film has some effective moments but I felt the inability to get lost in the material as it’s constantly reminds us just how much of an independent film it is.
Mildly effective drama about the grey area between immaturity and adulthood.