Overview: A young New Yorker finds himself wrestling with his demons in the face of diverse family challenges. The Film Arcade; 2015; Rated R; 85 Minutes.
A Tightly Knit Character Study: The camera never leaves its titular subject in writer-director Josh Mond’s new film. It invades the area directly around him, the emptiness of which grants him comfort and provides a deeply intimate look at a coming of age drama. These revealing close-ups betray his emotions in a way that words cannot. Yes, he is a disappointment, forever condemned to failing his dying mother, forever forbidden closure surrounding his recently-deceased father, and permanently bound to a life of recklessness. The atmosphere in James White is clear – a pervasive sense of honest dread and restrained grief, the kind one goes to sleep in an effort to forget, only to realize that remedy is temporary.
The truth is that, although he may not seem it, James is a child. He is self-centered and arrogant, and though he exudes a tough exterior, he is vulnerable. In one instance after another, he is pushed down by life, and it becomes hard to tell whether or not his loathsomeness is a product of all of these bad things, or vice versa. It seems he might change. The film captures this tumultuous battle within himself masterfully, never allowing it to fall victim to phony emotion, and honing it within a self-reflective study of a man lost in a world where nothing seems to go his way.
Time is Illusory: Time is portrayed beautifully in this film. Cuts disrupt and expedite scenes of meditation, fully conveying the emotion and ideas behind each one without numbing the mind. Then, the cuts almost disappear and time seems to move slowly. No matter how quickly time escapes around him, the spontaneity of life’s troubles never fail to catch up. On first glance, a vacation in Mexico seems like a distant dream, a brief oasis in this treacherous life of his. He arrives. Boy meets girl. It appears to be the start of their adventure together, but the distance and the magic in the air of a foreign land cannot stop bad news from arriving, plucking him from his fairy-tale idyll and plopping him right back where he was, only now, with responsibilities. He is forced to adapt, lest he allow himself to fall under the weight of his burdens.
Reflection of Life: The most blatant and glaring certainty, however overpowering most every other aspect of Mond’s contribution to the film, is in his command of acting that does not feel like mere performance. Christopher Abbott disappears into the titular role. Cynthia Nixon is heartbreaking and compassionate. Together they forge a relationship that takes decades to perfect in shallow minutes; their chemistry is undeniable and the emotions that emerge are real. The burdens in life are a pressure cooker of sorts. Unconditional love between mother and son is a set-up for disappointment, but also for a tender emotion that escapes description.
Overall: In Mond’s film, it is important to note that sometimes disappointment is okay, and sadness should be embraced for the sake of growth. Ultimately, denial and closure cannot coexist, and the former must make way for the latter.