PFF24: James White (Josh Mond, USA)

Josh Mond’s beautifully wrought James White focuses on the titular, self-destructive protagonist as he struggles to care for his terminally ill mother following his estranged father’s death. Well-meaning but unable to get out of his own way, James coasts idly from one month to the next with the stable support of few and nothing to offer them in return. Only time will tell if James will compensate for his wide-reaching selfishness with an earnest effort to better himself, if only for his mother’s sake.

Tales of twentysomethings bogged down in a state of arrested development have always struck a chord with me, but not solely because I can relate to these types. Instead, characters like James have the opportunity to be complex, thought-provoking ones that transcend typically black-and-white tropes with the help of an incisive script. Whether James’ immaturity and rampant recklessness is a byproduct of a single-parent household or not, Mond’s nuanced illustration of this individual is both sentimental and unbiased in a way that avoids melodramatic missteps, even during familiarly staged depictions of substance-infused debauchery as a go-to coping mechanism.

Despite how some may feel about its basically engaging themes, James White‘s narrative cuts a bit deeper thanks to a deft, spatially-inclined sense of focus and corresponding intimacy. Beneath the one-two punch of a screw-up screwing up while earnestly tending to his dying mother, therein lies a ticking clock element that exacerbates the former’s incompetence tenfold. Although this yields as bleak an outlook as can be, Mond’s hand is never manipulative as this uncommonly strong bond is revered for its perseverance through hardship rather than lamented for the tragedy on display.

James White is hands-down a masterclass in focal intimacy and restraint among its contemporaries. Both James himself and the unwavering bond between him and his mother are as authentic as anything I’ve seen in recent memory, an impartial portrait of the title character serving to inform us that some things are easier said than done. It’s ultimately the least uplifting thing you’ll see, but James White is still shot through with enough hopefulness, sincerity and balance to avoid diving headlong into an ocean of cloying emotionality.