DVD Review - James White

It won the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It won the NBR Award as one of the Top Ten Independent Films. It was nominated for two Gotham Awards and nominated for three Spirit Awards. Both the Gotham and Spirit Awards recognized the lead actor. A lot of the critical acclaim went to the lead actor as well, and it's clear that writer-director Josh Mond in his feature debut wanted this movie to be a vehicle for the actors to do the most acting and even some over-acting. While showcasing the human performers is not a bad thing, it shouldn't be to the exclusion of everything else like Son of Saul or the writing should and needs to support it.

Christopher Abbott (Martha Marcy May Marlene and A Most Violent Year) stars as James White, a guy in his mid to late twenties who lives with his mother in her New York apartment. The film follows him from November 2012 to March 2013, from when his father dies to when his mother dies. He's spent some time helping his mom who's been battling cancer. At first, he tries to take a break from it all, but eventually he becomes consumed with taking care of his mom.

Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City and The Big C) co-stars as Gail White, the aforementioned mom who is dying of cancer. It's never said what exactly her cancer is. This is where the writing should and needs to support the performances. All we know is that she's Stage 4 or has terminal cancer, which is all that is required, but without more specificity it makes things thin or a bit at arm's length. She was a teacher and married but not much more about her life is revealed.

Obviously, the film is told from James' point-of-view, so we are limited to where we go and what we learn. Yet, for a film that wants to be about a mother and son, it doesn't explore that relationship or dive deep into it. Mond immerses us into the day-to-day or moment-to-moment of one person taking care of a gravely-ill person. There is some empathy to be had there, but it's not enough.

Makenzie Leigh (Gotham and The Slap) plays Jayne, a girlfriend that James meets in Mexico and with whom spends time. This relationship doesn't really do anything for the narrative. It goes along with this idea that James wants to take a break, but, again, for a film that wants to be about a mother and son, this relationship is a waste of screen time. It goes nowhere and instead of delving into him and his mother's past or further arcing their story, Mond would rather show Jayne jerking James off in the shower.

If Mond thought that this stuff with the girlfriend was necessary, then that's fine, but there needed to be more. This film is perhaps too short. The character of James is not painted in the greatest of lights. He initially is not likeable, particularly attractive or empathetic. By the end, he's forced to care for his sick mom, but even that is not enough to make us care for him because who knows if it's enough to change him.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for drug use, some sexuality/nudity, and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.


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