Director and writer Josh Mond shows unflinching faith in Christopher Abbott, star of “James White.” Mond knows this story of a 20-something on the verge of a variety of breakdowns only works if the audience can feel every spark of anger, frustration, hope, disappointment, love and loss White feels.
This is accomplished by a stripped down production that puts all of its potential power in the performances. The movie, this month’s offering by Fresno Filmworks that screens on Friday, Jan. 8, at the Tower Theatre, is so engaging there are times when it becomes almost overwhelming. But that is a glowing sign of how well the movie is acted and put together.
James White (Abbott) has lived a good upper middle-class life. That comfortable existence begins to unravel as his mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), slowly loses her battle with cancer. Pushed into a new roll as caregiver stresses White to the point of near collapse.
It’s easy to feel the pain since Mond rarely takes the camera off White’s face. The unrelenting stare of the camera lens forces Abbott to play even the tiniest of emotions to their fullest. Even the slightest deviation from the proper emotional flow would show up as a massive blemish on this deep, dark portrait.
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Abbott never falters.
Whether it is the confusion he feels with his lost love, the guilt he experiences when facing his true feelings about his mother or the emotional spiral he can’t contain because of the natural disasters of life, the performance by Abbott is painfully real. It’s such a complex performance, it is no stretch to feel disappointment in White when he shows up at a job interview in a way doomed to failure and hope when it looks like he’s at least trying.
Abbott’s so good, it would be easy to overlook the best performance in Nixon’s career. Playing a patient who is slipping into the cold grasp of death. Nixon finds just the right way to play the role so that it becomes easier to understand the frustration and compassion White is dealing with in regards to his mother. It is a joy to watch her work, despite the sad nature of the role.
Mond’s faith in his actors shows in how the movie is shot. Most of the time, it looks like a small off-Broadway stage production with limited money for scenery. Keeping the camera locked on his actors faces not only allows the director to spotlight their skills, but it creates an intimate and tight environment.
The setting, shooting style and story create a feeling of darkness and depression that oozes off the screen like a thick fog. There are a few moments of escape, but overall “James White” is an emotional treadmill turned up to the highest depressing setting possible.
That makes it uncomfortable to watch at times, but it is never uninteresting.
Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston
Director: Josh Mond
Rated R (drug use, nudity, language)
Screenings: A Fresno Filmworks screening at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, only, at the Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave. $10, $8 students and seniors.