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Sundance Review || "James White"

James White
is a revealing ailment drama fastened by excellent performances and as smothered in bathos as cafeteria nachos are in fluorescent cheese. Marking the writing/directing debut for longtime Borderline Films producer Josh Mond, this nuclear family implosion bespeaks a turning point for the genre-leaning studio. In the wake of such cerebral thriller vibes of Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer, James White is the product of hawkish realism - an blemished, brave story that squares its audience in the midst of an emotional tornado.

Encouraged by the close circle of Borderline principals to "work on something personal", the tragic development at the heart of the film is culled straight from Mond's own experience of losing his mother to cancer. Says Mond, "James White isn’t my exact story - it wouldn't be possible to tell my story in one movie - but it definitely came from a place of wanting to understand things that I was dealing with, things that I am still dealing with.”

And you can feel the verisimilitude bleed off the screen. Rather than sentimentalize and aggrandize the role of the mother and son struggling with the big C, Mond eulogizes in repentant waves. This is no story of heroism, it's an account of needing an instruction manual when there is none available.
As the eponymous character, Christopher Abbot breaks out in the biggest way possible. Full of rage and anguish, he's an impossible character but Abbot absolutely nails him. From his hard partying exploits to dealing with his grief in volatile salvos, Abbott rounds the character out without sanding him down. We're privy to all the ugly, unflattering divots and bumps in his personality.  Combative detonations, emotional blusters and huge (but understandable) mood swings reveal a soul as lumpy and bruised as an overgrown tumor.

White's best friend is played by Kid Cudi, who after a surprisingly impressive debut in Need for Speed (a fun performance trapped in a lagging film) is back showcasing a deft ability to handle drama. Cynthia Nixon is a heartbreaker as White's fading matriarch, giving a performance soaked in fever sweat and unsentimentally sobering.

Mond keeps things simple in order to showcase the developing relationship arcs - the twentysomething deadbeat manning up, the caregiver role inevitably transplanted from one generation to the next - and for it is rewarded with a singularly affecting film that's lamentably about as much fun as the death throes.


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