The drama film “James White” tells an abnormally raw and gritty version of the coming-of-age story. Written and directed by Tisch alumnus Josh Mond, “James White” follows the title character (Christopher Abbot), a troubled young man in his twenties struggling through life in New York City. As his cancer-stricken mother’s (Cynthia Nixon) health rapidly deteriorates, James White is forced to grow up and take care of her while also trying to keep his own life afloat.
The film unfolds choppily — the majority of scenes are very short, and Mond moves from one to the next without much of a transition at all, much less a smooth one. This, in turn, reflects the turbulent, impulsive behavior of the protagonist as he drinks, smokes and parties his way through existence. The film is shot in such a raw, intimate way that it appears as though we are truly getting a glimpse into someone’s dysfunctional life. Regular head-on close-ups of James reveal his inner struggle with emotions as he grapples with family, friendship and love.
After the film begins in a drug-induced montage, James soon learns that his estranged father has passed away. The film then flashes through short bursts of action as he spirals in and out of fits of anger to reckless nights of partying and various hookups. Clearly his worst enemy, James is also a victim. As much of an aimless train wreck James is, Christopher Abbott’s performance still entices the audience to root for him.
As for Nixon, the seasoned actress gives a heartbreaking performance as James’ erratic mother who is battling stage four cancer. Her illness and instability throw James into a major loop, as he must battle his slacking ways to take care of his ailing mother when he can barely even take care of himself. Watching him try to grow up is painful. He can’t seem to shake his bad habits, he fails to be there when he needs to be and when he is, the results are disastrous. The transition from tortured slacker to caretaker and responsible son is not an easy one, and we never see James truly win. But we do see him try, and maybe there’s something to be said for that too.
This film will resonate with all. It is not only for those who are in the same, desolate predicament as James — because of the universal themes in the film, all audiences can empathize with James. Watch the movie for its tender portrait of a tortured young man.
“James White” is currently playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on 143 E. Houston St.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 9 print edition. Email Daria Butler at [email protected]