James White Screen 20 articles

James White


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  • At the heart of the many flaws of James White is the simple fact that the film doesn’t need to exist. Josh Mond’s film is a bewildering exercise in cinema that feels a lot more like a careful curation of western cinephilia’s most overdone narrative arcs and exhausted character cliches than it does a refreshing and thought-provoking film.

  • The whole thing feels like an edgy-indie attempt on James Gray, mashing up the arrested development of Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers with the dying mother of The Yards, but all without Gray's restraint and precise placing of his distraught New Yorkers in an ethnic, familial and neighborhood milieu. Instead, Mond expectedly foregrounds immediacy and proximity as shortcuts to inquiry and intimacy, and never really moves either.

  • This pain-filled, heartfelt drama, about a young man who is thrown for a loop by his mother’s illness and his father’s death, plays more like a visualized script treatment than a fleshed-out movie... The writer and director, Josh Mond, places dramatic weight on Gail’s health, giving Nixon a chance to shine in a role of great suffering, but his images, with their stolidly lurid realism, are not much more than downbeat mood music.

  • James White is scrupulously observed, and always feels truthful; moment to moment, there’s not a complaint that I could make, and certain scenes, like the one in which James applies for a job at New York magazine and is compassionately informed (by Ron Livingston, in a superb and too-brief turn) that he’s way too fucked up to be employable, are riveting. Yet I never felt as if director Josh Mond or lead actor Christopher Abbott dug very deep into the title character’s broken psyche.

  • "James White" is more straightforward [than Entertainment] in addressing its character's flaws, a fairly conventional film that transcends a feel-good conclusion because it doesn't reassure the audience that everything will be all right.

  • One of the small miracles of Mond’s handling of this scenario is that his movie’s gaze never becomes sentimental or moralistic. Rather, it is a raw and thoroughly honest stare into the decomposition of those essentially ephemeral entities that we feel most accountable for... And the film presents itself to us unconcerned with the burden of meaning; it just begins, and it just ends—it simply is, and it feels all the more primal because of it.

  • [James] is something of a mess — but our sympathy would be deeper and cleaner if the people around him weren't such obvious jerks. Luckily, James White gets better from there, though it's sometimes hard to feel for James precisely because Mond — making his feature debut — has pulled so many strings to *make* him sympathetic... [When the film] really digs in, it's an affecting portrait of grief and of feeling lost in life. So often the two go hand in hand.

  • James White provides a pitch-black spin on the “overgrown man-child” genre, bolstered by gripping performances from Abbott and Nixon. What results is a coming-of-age story where few warm feelings are exchanged and no clear-cut lessons are learned. The overripe adolescent is forcefully wrenched out of childhood, emerging broken and incomplete.

  • Kind of a maudlin dynamic, the clown who laughs but inside his heart is breaking (only not a clown who laughs but an angry guy who gets into fights, seemingly an asshole but actually a dutiful son to a sick mother) - yet Christopher Abbott's star-making performance is undeniable: every moment has to feel alive for the film to work, and every moment does. Most of the big scenes work, in a gruelling way, and if the biggest one doesn't... you have to admit it was necessary.

  • There wouldn’t be much reason for us to care about what happens to the character at all were it not for the fugitive soulfulness that flickers in his eyes like a light at the end of some cavernous tunnel. Abbott, who played small parts in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “A Most Violent Year,” has the kind of volatile, unpredictable energy of the actors in a John Cassavetes film, and he gives James a tortured humanity, a sense of profound inner struggle.

  • James White looks like a simple film on its surface. We remain tightly, almost exclusively, focused on Abbott, whose tense lips and watchful eyes often have to carry the drama. (The young Girls actor is asked to do a surreal amount of heavy lifting here; it’s a wonderful showcase for his range and talent.) But despite the vérité-influenced stylization, writer-director Mond (whose own struggle with loss likely inspired some of this story) doesn’t seem too interested in realism or grit.

  • The film’s intensity hinges on Abbott’s blazing central performance: no matter how wasted his character gets, the actor’s tortured eyes always manage to convey the depths of his inner demons... With inspiration from his own experience of caring for his dying mother, writer-director Mond has created a propulsive force of a film with an emotional core that’s as raw as an open wound.

  • When putting the dramatic groundwork in, Mond's focus on the quotidian ensures that later scenes—in which Gail's health declines and James must suffer the frustration and anguish that come with personally caring for a parent whose mental and physical capacities are abandoning her—carry a weight that doesn't need to be milked. By means of characterization, Mond scripts scenes that court cliché only to resist it.

  • The film is grueling because of its raw emotional honesty. It is fearless and specific in its portrayal of a family member’s final illness, and how scary it can be, how unpredictable, and – most importantly – how *disorienting*.

  • The pinnacle of the film, probably the scene of the year, is a long-take in the bathroom where [James] momentarily alleviates his mother’s pain of the pitiless proximity of death by telling a story in which he constructs an ulterior reality for them both. In such scenes, it is clear that through compassion and love, James has reached a depth of humanity a great deal of people never achieve.

  • Unlike the previous Borderline productions, James White never feels like it’s building toward a rug-pulling revelation or an ambiguous finale meant to haunt the viewer. The movie is just this: a slow decline toward a new reality in which James White will have to do some reevaluating.

  • The character is amusingly ridiculous in the movie’s first half, but as James’ stresses intensify, James White becomes more and more gripping, and subtly devastating.

  • We don’t get much back story or causal explanation. The movie is like life itself, at times intentionally disjointed, rather raw and unembellished. [Mond] has developed his own style, very different from that of either of his partners at Borderline Films, Antonio Campos and Sean Durkin. The jury’s in: He’s an emerged talent. In addition, he gets points for overcoming the emotional drain that necessarily accompanies a semi-autobiographical film about personal tragedy.

  • With an intimacy caught in tight close-ups, Abbott and Nixon hold the pared-down script and each other gently. Like grief itself, this film might knock the wind right out of you.

  • Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon’s performances as James and his mother, respectively, are the reasons to see the film. They offer gestures that astonish in their familial intimacy, particularly as James paints his mother a figurative portrait of a life that will never be.

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