James White (2015)
Finding such limited release for a widely discussed independent film can really throw a wrench into year-end superlatives. With James White, I found found my first major miss of the 2015 season. Released for a single week in Seattle, I wound up foregoing this movie for other priority viewings. Now that it finally became available for home viewing, I find some missed opportunity amidst my acting fields.
The late twenties are a defining point in adulthood. Careers begin; families procreate; identity is establishing. When this is a period of recovery, what occurs when history rears its most distracting of heads? James White, a young man of wild disabandon, reappears after a night of partying into bright daylight. Sauntering home, still secretly vibing to the Jazz in his headphones, he comes upon his father’s shiva, just as his replacement family meets his recently cancer-free mother. Josh Mond’s feature debut unleashes the impending struggle right out of the box.
Christopher Abbott handles the lead’s self-destruction handsomely, even amidst his most ugly behavior. Following his father’s death, his mother’s cancer returns to threaten his surviving parent. Drawn back into his crippling responsibility, James backslides into damaging behavior while his mother Gail (Cynthia Nixon) crumbles before him. Abbott is as determined with caregiving as he is adamant about partying. Neither circumstance is anywhere near his control while handling the other. Drinking leads to forgotten responsibility; the terminal case accentuates the need to forget. James White is lively and unhinged and heartbreaking. He is still young, but he has not been allowed by actions and by circumstance to develop his potential. Abbott exudes his cravings and his disappointment in himself. Handling his sickly mother allows the man to creep through. Years of caring for Gail has broken him down; he isn’t ready for doing this again so soon.
Cynthia Nixon prepared on Broadway for her breakout film role, along with her real life experience as a cancer survivor. She physically collapses in Gail’s struggle. The movie is brutally personal in her diminishing health. Unafraid to bare the pain, Nixon suffers for her art. Most affecting was the mental effects of her disease and her treatment. Not uncommon with the cancer beast, Gail disassociates from reality. Far more terrifying than her physical ailment, Nixon appears entirely absent as she forgets her surroundings. The terror of both sides of this battle reach outside the mother and child experiencing it.
An incredible exploration of recovery, family, and loss, Josh Mond is an artist to watch. Previously credited with producing Martha Marcy May Marlene, he is establishing a reputation as an honest filmmaker of difficult stories. His growth as a filmmaker will be tested with exposure and increased budget. I anticipate the development of his impending growth as a filmmaker.
3.5 out of 4 stars