Coming from the trio of filmmakers that combine to form the Borderline Films collective which has brought us Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer we now get the debut feature from writer and director Josh Mond.
James White does not beat around the bush as it opens with the titular James (Christopher Abbott) already spiralling out of control in a club before heading to his father’s wake. James has no job, lives with his mother and overindulges in drink, drugs, and women. He is a man buzzing with anxiety, always on the verge of violence, and constantly on edge. James White is a selfish, self-destructive mess and as a protagonist is impossible to sympathise with.
Somehow though the combination of Abbott’s raw performance and Mond’s direction force you to side with James and see the world through his eyes. Mond’s camera never leaves James’ personal space and as such Abbott is given no margin for error. With the camera constantly trained on his face and portraying a character brimming with unsettling energy Abbott gives an incredibly authentic performance as James; never letting himself slip into caricature or pantomime.
For all his selfishness and self-destruction there is one area of his life in which James is willing to make a sacrifice; for his mother (Cynthia Nixon). Without going into spoiler territory let’s just say that James’ mother is not well and as such he has to at times step up and support her. It is during this time in the film that the story stops being about James White and instead focusses on the intimate relationship between a codependent mother and son. Both are very flawed, but they feel real and as such become very relatable.
Everyone involved in the film seems to be giving their all. It is incredible to think that the entire film was shot in roughly three weeks. James White is an 85-minute drama of constant tension and devastation, and watching it is exhausting. I can only imagine the weight it must have put on the cast and crew to get the film made.
James White is not a film that can be easily synopsised. To talk of its plot would be to ruin the film and could never really get across what the film is about. I can say that it is has a very specific energy, a tone, and a certain aching sadness. This is a film filled with the sounds of creaking wood, deep breaths, and the ruffling of clothing. Everything feels deeply intimate and personal.
An incredible debut filled with career making performances James White is emotionally draining and claustrophobic. No doubt this is a quality piece of cinema, just don’t expect to enjoy it per se.
James White screens at the festival this Thursday and Friday and tickets can still be bought online.