James White (4 stars)

James White

Glasgow Film Festival: Josh Mond’s remarkable debut sees a son care for his dying mother

‘When I come back, I will be ready for life,’ promises the eponymous New Yorker (played by Christopher Abbott) as he plans a trip to Mexico. This unemployed twentysomething has been accused by his ex-schoolteacher mother Gail (Cynthia Nixon) of living like he’s on one long break. The reality is something else entirely. Yes James is feckless, reckless and professionally directionless, prone to casual hook-ups, drink and drugs binges, heckling and bar brawls. But he’s also his mother’s kind and patient carer, tending to her as she’s ravaged by cancer, enduring her accusations and wild swings in mood and health, and acting as her advocate and companion.

James White is writer-director Josh Mond’s remarkable debut. Along with Antonio Campos and Sean Durkin he forms part of production company Borderline Films, known for the critical hits Martha Marcy May Marlene, Simon Killer and Afterschool (all of which Mond produced). His film is both an intimate portrait of life under suffocating stress, and the warm, compassionate story of an unbreakable bond between a mother and son.

Taking us from November 2012 to March 2013, we go from James’ father’s passing to his mother’s decline, as he faces the prospect of losing both parents in quick succession. We see the sensitive soul behind the bad behaviour, as we’re shown how those who are spiralling usually have good reason and that no-one is just the sum of their dark days. Like Amour, the film shines a light on the mental anguish that goes hand in hand with a loved-one’s physical deterioration, as well as the inadequacy of US healthcare provision.

Shot with great fluidity and style by Mátyás Erdély (whose incredible work includes Son of Saul and Miss Bala), this Sundance award-winner depicts James’ restless and terrified existence often in extreme close-up, taking us on a journey into his rattled psyche, while the impeccable performances from Abbott (best known for TV’s Girls) and Nixon more than stand up to the intense scrutiny. This courageous film gets right up in the face of suffering and it doesn’t flinch.

Screening on Fri 19 and Sat 20 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. DVD release from Mon 29 Feb.

James White

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Josh Mond
  • Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Ron Livingston
  • UK release: 19 February 2016

Unemployed New York twentysomething James (Abbott) lives recklessly, but when his mother Gail (Nixon) is diagnosed with cancer, he has to look after her. An intimate portrait of life under suffocating stress, shot with great fluidity and style and with impeccable performances from Abbott and Nixon.