Director Josh Mond Producers Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Melody C. Roscher Screenwriter Josh Mond Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi Country Of Origin USA Running Time 85 mins
Gail, played by Cynthia Nixon in a performance that will knock the air out of you, describes to her son James (JAMES WHITE, played by Christopher Abbott) how their emotions work compared to other people’s. She describes how the two of them have really, really good highs but deeply depressing lows. And they forget that there is all this space in the middle to live in. She mimes a circle – the ‘middle’ – with her hands.
That is what JAMES WHITE is about: trying to somehow level grief with joy so that it makes sense in the everyday and you can get by. It is a gift from writer/director Josh Mond of the award-winning Borderline Films collective (see MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and SIMON KILLER) because we are allowed to get so very intimate with the characters. But it is also an emotionally trying experience to be part of that stays loyally true to life, where there aren’t, as we know, any fairytale endings.
Grief is in the post. Gail is terminally ill and James’s father has recently passed away. Barging past the promise of pain, James hedonistically tries to escape reality with best friend Nick (Scott Mescudi) and we tag along for the ride, indulging in the cringing pleasures of his cheap thrill lifestyle in bars and nightclubs. There is comic lightness to be enjoyed in these boozy evenings. But the morning always tugs his eyelids back open to remind him he must return to his mother’s apartment to nurse her and watch her deteriorate. Thus the cycle of intense pain soothed with quick remedies rolls on towards its inevitable, heart breaking conclusion.
Abbott’s performance inspires not only gasps and tears but maternal yearning to take care of this man trying to stand on his own two feet when every pillar of support beneath him keeps getting brutally cut down. Watching him self-destruct like a ticking time bomb is painful, and we stay so physically close to him throughout that every wrong move he makes, every selfish decision, feels personal.
But JAMES WHITE is also about how, even in the bleakest situations, when we have to cope with the knowledge that those whom we love the most are imminently about to be wrenched from life, we find comfort. And how even when we can’t think of a single reason to make good decisions for ourselves, we find out of no where the strength to help the people who need us.
And even though the film offers no sugar-coated version of such a scenario, it is in the evidence of the strength of Gail and James’ bond, and the friendship of James and Nick, presented in Mond’s sensitive dialogue, that the film offers hope. To see that life in fact does go on and it is made bearable with the support of your friends.
So the final promise, and the final gift, James gives to his mother is true: “I’m going to be fine.”
The Final Word: JAMES WHITE is surely the film most deservedly in the LOVE category at LFF this year.
JAMES WHITE is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 7th, 8th and 9th of October.