Sundance Hong Kong 2015 Review: Only A Mother Could Love JAMES WHITE
The debut feature from Josh Mond, producer of Simon Killer and Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a tough coming-of-age tale featuring a couple of top-notch showboating performances. However, the desperate circumstances alone do not make for an engaging drama, and the desperately unlikable central character always keeps the audience at arm's length.
James White is a fuck-up, a rich kid from the upper west side of New York City, who has never taken responsibility for his life or anything that he's done. After living most of his life hedonistically indulging himself on his parents' cash, James is thrown into a tailspin when his long-absent father dies, and his mother's cancer relapses.
Josh Mond steps into the director's role for the first time here, while Borderline Films co-founders Sean Durkin and Antonio Campos produce, and James White is infused with the same blend of gritty drama filtered through a high-brow impressionist aesthetic that has been present in all their films to-date. The drug-and-booze fuelled nighttime escapades sit uneasily alongside the domestic drama played out in the family apartment. Clearly that is entirely the point, that these two worlds cannot co-exist, and James will doubtless destroy himself if he tries, but making the audience share these frustrations with the film's subject makes for a difficult viewing experience.
Fortunately, the two central performances are both incredibly commendable. Cynthia Nixon (of Sex And The City fame) is given plenty of opportunities to showboat as James' ailing mother, Gail - throwing up, collapsing, losing her memory and wandering aimlessly into the night. It is strong work from the most interesting of Carrie's former gal pals right now, but it is a role we have seen many times before.
Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year) is terrific in the title role - perhaps too good, as James is such a vile, unlikable narcissist that he threatens to alienate the audience in the same way he does with everyone else in his life. At one point he heads to Mexico, in the hope of escaping the temptations of the big city, but all he accomplishes is dragging another unsuspecting soul (Makenzie Leigh) into his maelstrom of destructive self-loathing. Scott Mescudi also deserves praise, both for his role as James' long-suffering friend Nick, and as composer of the film's soundtrack.
James White is clearly made from an experienced team who are fast-creating an identifiable and successful brand of filmmaking, and those partial to this particular tipple will find plenty to embrace and applaud. The performances are flawless, and in Abbott's case worthy of awards contention, while the script successfully avoids cliche and ends at a beautifully ambiguous crossroads. That said, James White himself is just too much of a prick to genuinely side with, and this reviewer found it increasingly difficult to care whether he ended up at New York Magazine, or face down in a puddle of his own vomit.