Along with another one of last year’s directorial debuts – John Magary’s The Mend – Josh Mond’s James White signals a new direction for New York indie cinema. Inspired by the improvisational energy of early Cassavettes and Jarmusch’s calculated coolness, James White offers an unconventional coming-of-age narrative that incorporates tragedy without allowing it to sublimate its storyline into banal linearity.
Centring on its eponymous protagonist (Christopher Abbott), the film resists the temptations of familiarity. The particulars of its narrative – a father’s death, a mother’s (Cynthia Nixon’s) terminal illness and the fuckuppery associated with these traumas – are clear without being shackled to a three act structure or neat conclusion. The story unfolds with the stop-start energy of an anxiety attack, anchored by Abbott’s formidable performance.
Credit, too, goes to Mátyás Erdély, operating in a similar mode to his work on the Oscar-winning Son of Saul. But where that film used its oppressive close-ups to obscure the specifics of its atrocities, here Erdély draws us relentlessly into James’s erratic headspace (ably complemented by Mond’s direction and Matthew Hannam’s swiftly-paced editing). Taken as a whole, the film embraces the chaotic, misshapen realities of the everyday, refusing to offer the catharsis or tragedy we might expect.