If Hollywood ever turns their gaze beyond the videogaming adolescent male, they might consider a more compelling story of what happens when these contemporary boys grow up. Some of them never do. Last September, one of the more resonant films for me at TIFF was the Sundance darling, James White. Released today in Toronto and other selected cities, this absorbing portrait of an aimless twenty something is right in the pocket of the anxiety pandemic facing today’s youth. It could be sub-titled: I just can’t cope.
When the film opens, we meet a hard partier who has lost a father he barely knew while struggling to care for his sick mother.
James White is shot mostly in intense close-ups and should come with warnings of muscle cramps: I’m not sure I moved or blinked while watching it. As a onetime film student, lifelong film fan, and former television producer, I never stop learning about storytelling essentials: start with familiar terrain and whatever you do, keep it honest. The story, said director Josh Mond last September during TIFF, is partly autobiographical as he wrote it to help deal with his mother’s death. An indie producer with the Borderline Films collective, Mond described his brief shoot in a gritty NYC, and a deliberate shooting style with a camera that only steps back when the viewer is scared. As the lost boy, Christopher Abbott delivers a heartbreaking performance of a life unhinged. Cynthia Nixon is also superb.
As strong as they both are, this ragged little film is never easy to watch, banging as it does headlong into raw emotion and the messy business of grief. We don’t get any explanations or history. We do get one of the sweetest scenes of the year that made me cry: a dying mom and her son conjuring up the fantasy life they could have had. Here, in this little set piece, was just enough light to illuminate the elemental beauty of life.
This is not your run-of-the mill cancer movie:no clichés or tidy endings. It is an utterly fascinating study of growth halted and started in tiny bursts. If you have courage to face the tough stuff, this one should be on your list.
Here’s what else caught my eye this week:
- My own 2015 hit list won’t come out for a few weeks but here’s one interesting list of the year’s best films. Look for mine at the end of December as there are some goodies yet to be released.
- Love The Princess Bride? Think you can quote every line? Prove it.
- When it comes to hot chocolate, I’m just not that ambitious. Would you make this?
- What will our friends south of the border come up with next? Something “free of culinary restraints”? How about the piecaken?
- Making work more fun? This portable standing desk looks fabulous.
- First came Munchery. Is Toronto now ready for a chef delivery service like this?
Have a great weekend.