I’ll begin by apologizing for my tardiness as festival fatigue has finally worn off following its conclusion. I saw a total of fifteen films at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, most of which were well worth seeing barring a couple of duds. This sheer volume of viewing paired with my continuing obsession with comparing my opinions with others’ yielded something fruitful, more specifically an overarching moment of self-reflection regarding my personal tastes. I’ve further distanced myself from past fears of harboring dissenting opinions, and thankfully, I feel much more confident in ironing out the criteria to befit my growing canon of personal favorites. Catching up with wide-release fare I’ve missed throughout the festival’s duration will prove tiresome, but I plan on eliminating a few blind spots in between these viewings whenever possible. Feel free to check out my ranked list of everything I saw at PFF24 here.
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.
This year’s festival circuit has yielded quite the crop of talent. From reemerging masters to fledgling auteurs, this fall season has me itching to see what many already have. I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers as I steadfastly compiled a list of what I’d most like to see at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, of which begins this Thursday with two back-to-back screenings of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. I’ll be attending the earlier of the two thanks to the convenience offered by my work schedule, and throughout the ten days that follow I’ll be seeing an additional fourteen films. Part of me is questioning my resolve in relation to the task at hand, then again I live here and am offered the luxury of being able to space these screenings out accordingly to much of my own excitement. I invite you to peruse my full schedule below as well as my list ranking of everything I’ve seen this year thus far here.