While some may balk at the arrival of yet another indie film delving into the angst of a twentysomething New York writer who broods and self-destructs, James White, the debut from writer-director Josh Mond, takes a slightly different tack that sets it apart.
It stars Christopher Abbott of Girls fame. On that TV show, he was Charlie, the confident, successful, debonair ex-boyfriend of Allison Williams. James White has none of that going for him. His “writing” career is going nowhere, and, as is the case with many writers, his work is mostly an outlet for his depression and loneliness masquerading as entertainment or literature.
There are some intriguing scenes of James wreaking havoc around the city at night. He runs his mouth and gets into fights, because deep down he doesn’t want to face up to the responsibilities in his life. He’s nearly 30 but trapped in an extended adolescence, regularly getting drunk or high, acting belligerently, and developing romantic interests with much younger women. In one of the most revealing moments, James is masturbated by Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), a woman he meets in Mexico on a trip to blow off some steam. He is simply too immature and narcissistic to have one-on-one sex.
The defining feature of his life is his mother’s cancer and the void caused by his father’s recent death. James struggles to be the support that his mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), needs as she fights her illness, but it’s more weight than he can bear. She isn’t gracefully embracing her mortality, to say the least, and it’s a very tall order for someone as out of sorts as James to have to be the levelheaded, responsible caretaker.
The film rests entirely on the intense performances of Nixon and Abbott, and they are very successful at bringing you inside of the angst of their characters. Mother and son are both tortured souls. Gail writhes around in bed laying guilt on her son and bemoaning her fate. In some scenes, she is up and about and doing better, before her health inevitably deteriorates. Whether you will enjoy having their torment jammed down your throat is another question.
Most films chronicling the urban lives and loves of young creatives have characters bounding with energy, quips, and hijinks, glorifying the wild throwaway years that seem increasingly an obligatory part of growing up. James White, on the other hand, emphasizes how the flip side of all that can be far from invigorating and empowering.