Performances help ‘James White’ pack a punch

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 10, 2015 8:03am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

When we first see James White (played by Christopher Abbott), he’s zoned out in a Manhattan nightclub, listening to the beats of the club’s sound system but also tuning into the dreamier music coming through his headphones. He gobbles some booze while other substances presumably course through his bloodstream.

The close-up view of this indie film’s title character is a useful intro. James will be our point of view for the remaining 85 minutes; for better or worse — and it gets worse — the world we see is his.

This early scene in “James White” isn’t over. Groggy, James stumbles out of the club into morning, and takes a cab to what turns out to be his father’s funeral gathering. Nobody seems too surprised by his disheveled appearance — they already know this guy.

It would be hard enough for James to get his act together, as we expect he will try to do, in the wake of his father’s death. But his mother (Cynthia Nixon), long divorced from James’ father, is sick with cancer.

Writer-director Josh Mond plays out a few months in James’s life, as his protagonist keeps intending to clean up his life. First a trip to Mexico is supposed to solve things, then a promising job prospect, then — well, it’s always the next thing.

Meanwhile, his mother gets sicker. This leads to some powerful scenes in the latter part of the movie.

Part of the wallop there is Cynthia Nixon’s performance. Best known for her role in the “Sex and the City” franchise, Nixon has had a long career as a distinguished stage actress, and she brings her well-honed skills to this demanding part.

The movie also has effective roles for Scott Mescudi (aka music dynamo “Kid Cudi,” who also worked on the film’s soundtrack) and Ron Livingston. But every scene is carried by Abbott, a young actor known for some indie work and a couple of seasons on “Girls.”

Abbott’s performance is serious and committed; James White is constantly fuming in an interior dispute with the rest of the world. The film’s best scenes — like a fight in a bar that erupts out of nowhere — have an explosive quality that Abbott embodies very well.

Like the film, the performance is strong, if not subtle. But that’s why “James White” packs a gut-level punch.

“James White” (3 stars)

An indie character study fueled by strong performances: Christopher Abbott as a fuming Manhattanite in the midst of self-destructing, and Cynthia Nixon as his sickly mother. The movie’s not subtle, but its best scenes have a truly explosive quality.

Rating: R, for language, nudity

Showing: Sundance Cinemas

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Carrie Compton clips leaves from the plants for sale at Houseplants Galore on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The great indoors: Houseplants to bring in a touch of spring

At Houseplants Galore in Everett, discover rare and beautiful plant specimens grown with care.

Cameron Hewitt
Switzerland's Lauterbrunnen Valley looks pastoral but it hides a powerful dose of natural wonder.
Rick Steves’ Europe: In the Swiss Alps, the laws of nature rule

The travel guru learned to respect the power of nature in the shadow of Switzerland’s towering Jungfrau.

Inside Elle Marie Hair Studio in Smokey Point. (Provided by Acacia Delzer)
The best hair salon in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied. Here are the results.

For more than a thousand years, Czech leaders – from kings and emperors to Nazis, communists, and presidents – have ruled from Prague Castle, regally perched on a hill above the Vltava River. Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli
Rick Steves’ Europe: History lives in Prague and its hilltop castle

It’s one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, having been spared from last century’s bombs.

Alarm clock in the middle of the night insomnia or dreaming
Trouble sleeping? Try these tips for getting a good night’s rest

Many adults turn to sleep aids, including alcohol, to help them rest, without realizing that their hectic lifestyles may be contributing to their sleeplessness.

The Stumbling Fiddler Band is scheduled to perform March 3 in Everett. (Photo provided by Port Gardner Bay Music Society)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get ready for St. Patrick’s Day with music by the Stumbling Fiddler Band in Everett.

I was charged an extra $250 for a mistaken car rental upgrade

When Leah Page picks up her rental car from Thrifty, it charges her a $250 upgrade fee. Can it do this without her permission, and how can she get a refund?

Naomi Jacobson as Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at Village Theatre in Everett. (Auston James)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” which tells the sex therapist’s amazing back story, is now showing at Village Theatre in Everett.

Over 200 years, the magic lantern transformed into an educational peacock

Regarded as magic in the 1650s, this device was refined into the more scientific sounding sciopticon by the mid-1800s.

Market for sale plants. Many plants in pots
Snohomish Garden Club plans annual plant sale

The event is scheduled for April 27 at Swan’s Trail Farms. Proceeds will go to scholarships.

Start planting now so you can stop to smell your own roses all summer long

Late winter to early spring is perfect for planting roses. And with so many varieties to consider, there’s no time to waste.

The 2024 Mazda3 hatchback. (Mazda)
2024 Mazda3 adds a Carbon Turbo trim and more safety features

The charismatic compact is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.