James White (Christopher Abbott) has been through a lot in his life, but at the same time, not really. While his father basically abandoned him at a young age and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) has been going through frequent battles with cancer, he has no job, no girlfriend, and no real place to live. But James feels as if life has chewed him up, spat him out and left him for dead, even if that hasn’t actually happened. But in order to get his back in-check and be prepared for what life has to throw at him, James decides to go to Mexico with his best pal (Scott Mescudi) where they drink, party, and do drugs, while also meeting the very young Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh). However, all of the fun comes to an end when James is called back home to tend to his mother and his needs – something he’s not quite ready for, especially when it turns out that her cancer has returned and it’s rougher than ever. Now, for James, it’s time to grow up and shut up, even if he can’t seem to do either.
We all know someone like James White. That self-pitiful, bratty, almost immature guy who cares only about himself, his needs and always has something to whine about. He’ll complain about not getting what he wants and being asked to do too much in his life, when, if you look at it, he’s not called on for anything. He is, for lack of a better term, a bum.
But that doesn’t make him any less interesting.
What’s neat about James White, both the character, as well as the movie, although, what’s the difference, is that the movie never tries to make any amends for the way James acts. In the first fifteen or so minutes, we see him pick a fight in a bar, let it settle down, and then start it all back up. Then, we also see him outright threaten a family member with violence at his father’s wake. There’s something to James that’s so despicable, yet, he’s so relatable that it’s hard to actually hate him; if anything, I quite enjoyed my time with James
Sure, you could say that writer/director Josh Mond is using James White as a way to spend time with an a-hole, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. In a way, there’s always been something inherently compelling about what drives and draws a person to always constantly being an a-hole; something about how that character doesn’t give a crap about what people think of them or their actions, is, in a way, very intriguing. These types of people in life may bother us, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, which is why every second spent with James White, watching as he navigates through his life filled with sex, booze, drugs, hotel rooms, and couches, I quite enjoyed.
You could say that I wasn’t supposed to, but somehow, that actually happened.
Mond keeps his focus so tight on White that it’s hard to stray away from him and to anyone else here. The movie uses close-up like its day job, where we are right up James navel cavities, not seeing what’s around him, but only peering down at him, seeing his eyes and that’s it. This is an effective, if very suffocating device, as it really draws us closer to this character; we may not get greater ideas of what kind of person he is, but it makes us feel trapped and alone with this guy, the way he would probably love and enjoy.
It also helps that Christopher Abbott is pretty damn great in this role, too. Even though Abbott was probably best known for his stint on Girls, time will probably change after this, and we’ll start to see more of him, which is great because he’s a naturalistic talent. As James White, Abbott gets a chance to do a lot, with seemingly, so little; while we get small outlines of who this character is, the movie leaves a lot up to Abbott to pick up the pieces and he does a good job with it. There’s this unpredictable feeling with James where we don’t know if he’s going to do something nice, or better yet, relatively sweet, or downright reprehensible, and screw-up his life anymore that he already has.
Abbott, as well as Mond, keep us guessing, which is definitely a testament to the fine acting-display from Abbott – someone who deserves every role that’s probably getting thrown his way about right now.
Cynthia Nixon plays James’ mother, and even though a lot of what she has to do her is look and act sickly, especially given that her character is battling cancer, she does a good job with it. You get the feeling that she’s the warmth and love in James’ life that he so desperately holds onto and needs – not just to keep him alive, but to keep him from sleeping on the streets. They have a nice chemistry that isn’t always love-love, nor is it always hate-hate – as with any mother-son duo, they have issues, but they also have qualities that make them love the other and it’s nice to see.
If anything, James White doesn’t so much as lose focus by the end, as much as it just narrows it down more. To me, this was perhaps the weakest parts of the movie; while I understand that a story like this needed to narrow its focus down even more than it already has, there was still a part of me that was missing watching James go out into late night-NYC, cause all sorts of havoc and chicanery wherever he want. Then again, that’s not the movie I continued to get – instead, I got something that showed him more as a human being who, of course, may not be perfect, but still has any qualities like you or I and because of that, should be seen as a human being.
A very troubled, almost imperfect human being that I wanted to hang around more.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe I see a little bit of James within myself.
Consensus: With a stellar lead performance from Christopher Abbott, James White is an interesting look at a person’s life that we don’t always see portrayed in the movies.
8.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire