LFF Review: James White

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80%
80
Engrossing

A tough, but seriously engrossing watch that benefits from a superb cast and a star making turn from newbie Christopher Abbott.

A worthy winner of awards across the festival circuit (including – but not limited to – Sundance) Josh Mond’s stunningly detailed character study is starting to turn heads, and here’s why.

Over the course of several months, James White follows the mental and physical struggles of its titular character (Former Girls star Christopher Abbott) as he battles with personal demons concerning the death of his estranged father. Parallel to this, he finds love and affection from a support network of friends and his mentally-unstable, cancer-stricken mother whom he cares for, in between nightly binge-drinking sessions to ease the pain of his constant inner frustration.

Frustration, in fact, is the key word here. Not only is James’s own frustration with the world a major element in his constant misery, but the film itself at times, especially in its opening, feels a little too frustrating in its execution. Mond’s dedication to the idea of the film as a character-study is clear to see from everything from its title, to the very fact that its protagonist never really leaves the frame at any point. For the most part, this works incredibly, but in the film’s introduction at least, such a tactic feels a tad too full-on and it becomes a little difficult for one to actually get their bearings.

When things do begin to slow down however, Mond’s film gradually mellows into an incredibly genuine and affecting human drama. All it takes is for all the characters to be in place, and the emotional fireworks which have been sparking since those early minutes finally ignite and begin to start hitting home.

Central to this all though is Abbott’s performance; an often subtle but always powerful unravelling of a man truly at odds with the universe. As more and more of the film’s narrative is revealed, so too is Abbott’s talent, gently flipping audience expectations of his journey at every step along the way. His pairing with the equally-excellent Cynthia Nixon as James’s sickly mother forms the large majority of the film’s standout moments, including a genuinely heart-wrenching conclusion that, although totally grounded in its execution, serves as a grand emotional finale that digs far deeper than you could possibly expect.

Shuffling onto screens as very much the antithesis to Noah Baumbach’s similarly character-heavy France’s Ha, James White is a dark and unapologetic look inside the mind of someone battling to uncover their true potential, but falling limp at every hurdle. It’s dedication to character drives it far above most other human studies and helps it to stand tall as ultimately, one of the most affecting dramas of the year.

James White (2015), directed by Josh Mond, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.

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Former Film Editor, Film graduate and general supporter of all things moving-picture related. Accidentally obsessed with Taylor Swift. Long-time Ellen Page fanboy.

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