Director: Josh Mond
Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, Scott Cohen, Ron Livingston, David Call
Running Time: 85 minutes
A huge disclaimer for all the hypersensitive out there: if you cry when a couple finally gets together in a basic rom-com (like me) or feel like you cannot sit through a Film about hardship and mental struggles, then prepare a large box of Kleenex tissues and brace yourself for Josh Mond’s James White. The film does not hold back and will cut right into the depths of your fragile minds.
The film is brutal in its honesty and visceral in its depiction of a rough patch in a mother/son relationship. Yet this is exactly why Mond’s directorial debut is so brilliant – the director summons the strength and power of cinema to evoke the purest of feelings from its viewers. JAMES WHITE is simple in its shape but multi-faceted in its execution, dazzling with emotional rawness and psychological implications of one person’s sorrowful state.
The film’s protagonist James White is a typical twenty-something New Yorker with a big bunch of aspirations but very limited sets of actions to achieve his goals. An aspiring writer, he drifts through life, filling it with numerous parties, drugs, alcohol and worthless one night stands. He does not have a permanent place to stay and always relies on his mother Gail’s couch to accommodate him after all the nights of debauchery.
Who knows how long such self-destructive would sustain itself before it all starts going downhill for James. He learns of his estranged father’s death and is forced to attend the funeral organised by his father’s new family. He goes to Mexico, hoping to come back to New York and start afresh, but finds out the most disastrous of news – his mother has stage four cancer and he has to return from his trip in order to help her get through the tough process of chemotherapy.
Whereas the first part of the film consists of a hazily interlocked web of parties, chance encounters and quick glimpses into James’s relationships, pacing up the narrative to encapsulate the instability of his lifestyle, the second part is where the film suddenly hits the brake. James White is no longer an immature wasteman, but a caretaker who is heavily concerned about his mother’s wellbeing. He has to put his self-destructive behaviour aside in order to be the strong-willed person who his ill mother can rely on.
We are delved right into the whirlpool of hospital beds, post-chemo relapses and the crazed mind of a cancer-ridden patient, all of which is displayed so ruthlessly and straightforwardly by Josh Mond. Having previously dipped his fingers into the production of acclaimed psychological dramas like MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and AFTERSCHOOL, it seems that he has mastered the authenticity of the subject of pain and personal trauma.
It is hard not to cover your eyes during the last half an hour of the film as it escalates to its soul-stirring denouement – Gail’s near-death state and James’s last futile attempts to stabilize his mother’s condition. If you thought that you were doing well so far, just wait until the absolutely shattering penultimate bathroom scene where James is holding his mother in his arms as she is unable to stand. Moments like this reminds us what cinema is all about – an experience that makes us FEEL the film’s dramatic resonance through every cell of our bodies.
JAMES WHITE mutes the energy of the film’s vital elements in order to establish the unspoken power of personal grief. The film invites us to look in between the lines as it gathers its strength from the unequalled manifestation of James’s unconditional love for his mother and his devastation as he watches her liveliness fade away from the merciless disease. Another relationship which is equally as moving is between James and his best friend Nick, who also starts being at his best behaviour in order to guide frenzied James through a rough period in his life. Nick often witnesses his friend at his worse and is forced to make James regulate his irrational behaviour as he cannot face him becoming a victim of overpowering despair.
Prepare yourselves for the worst because JAMES WHITE is not an easy watch. On the contrary, it is a powerful piece of cinema that plunges right through your soul and leaves you as a vulnerable mess. A fantastic achievement from a debut filmmaker who only stands to prove that you do not need a big budget to make great films that are capable of manipulating our sensory experiences.
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