Arts Review, Movies
Josh Mond, director and writer
A film that starts with a drunk young man—our titular character, James White–arriving late for the wake of his father, where he is upbraided by his mother and then meets, for the first time, his dad’s second wife and daughter, is clearly designed to put you through an emotional ringer.
James’ mother, Gail, has already survived one bout with cancer but quite soon after his father’s death, she is diagnosed with a fatal return of the disease. James, who had left Gail to discover his artistic muse in Mexico—and quickly found the gorgeous, kind Jayne—is suddenly thrust into the position of care-giver and main support for the only person he has loved in his life, his mother.
James White is pure melodrama, fueled by the fiery neurotic intensity that used to be associated with Method acting back in the Fifties. There are no small scenes in the film. Either James and his best pal Nick are drinking too hard or Jayne is there to provide the requisite emotional and physical solace (will there ever be good roles for young women?) or Gail is in crisis, emotionally and physically.
Set in Manhattan and filled with liberal cultural types, James White has a certain seductive charm for those of us who could imagine suffering in the Big Apple. A taste for the hyperbolic is a necessity for the proper enjoyment of the film.
And yet…in the midst of the over-the-top posturing, well meaning though it may be, is a towering performance by Cynthia Nixon as Gail White. She’s a woman who has lost her husband, had most of her dreams destroyed but still has a bright interior light of personal charm and vivacity—and, above all, a love for her son. Sensing the intensity around her, Nixon plays her role with a sardonic wit and an easy welcoming rapport offered effortlessly to Christopher Abbott as her son, James. No exaggeration: Cynthia Nixon is luminous in the role of Gail White. She makes the entire film worthwhile. And remember: she was only great actress in Sex and the City.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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