Movie review of “James White”: A deeply disaffected New York 20-something feels trapped by the responsibility of caring for his mother, who is dying of cancer. Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon star. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
The experience of watching “James White” is like being shut up in a small, dark, airless room … a sickroom.
The title character, played by Christopher Abbott, is a deeply disaffected New York 20-something who feels trapped by the responsibility of caring for his mother (Cynthia Nixon), who is dying of cancer.
Writer-director Josh Mond opens the picture with a tight shot of Abbott’s face, glistening with sweat, features fixed in an expression of morose distraction, seemingly adrift in a dark, noisy nightclub.
Movie Review ★★
‘James White,’ with Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Makenzie Leigh, Scott Mescudi. Written and directed by Josh Mond. 85 minutes, Rated R for drug use, some sexuality/nudity, and language. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
Crowding in on that countenance, holding that image for what seems like an eternity, Mond sets the tone for all that is to follow. And that’s misery, compounded with hopelessness, edged with anger. Welcome to despair without end.
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White is one of the least sympathetic central characters the movies have ever seen. “An adult with no money, no job, no place to live,” in the words of his mother, on whose couch he sleeps. “A mess,” in the words of a family friend, and given to rage-filled, violent outbursts.
Being his mother’s caregiver is not ennobling. Rather, it’s a terrible burden that’s crushing James’ spirit and driving him to wail, “What am I supposed to do? Nobody tells me.”
In the movie’s production notes, Mond reveals that the picture is a very personal work, inspired by his experiences of caring for his own mother while she was dying of cancer. He calls making it “very therapeutic.” No doubt.
But though well-acted — especially by Nixon, wan and worn-looking as the mother, conveying her fright and the character’s inward turning, which turns into self-centeredness — the question is: Who will want to sit through this?
As one who, like James, has sat for hours, for days, for months, at the bedside of a loved one as she faded away, I can appreciate the sincerity with which Mond seeks to delineate the emotional landscape in which James is stranded. But it’s not a place, given the choice, one would willingly visit.
There’s such a thing as something being too personal. “James White” is that thing.