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James White (Christopher Abbott) is a troubled twentysomething trying to stay afloat in a frenzied New York City. As he retreats further into a hedonistic lifestyle, his mother's battle with a serious illness faces a series of setbacks that force him to assume more responsibility. With the pressure on him mounting, James must find new reserves of strength or risk imploding completely.

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James White movie full length review - Engrossing and heartbreaking glimpse into an unfortunate life

James White (Christopher Abbott) is caught in an endless cycle of self-destruction. He has just lost his father and fears losing his ailing mother (Cynthia Nixon) who he has been taking care of for years.

He spends his days drinking, sleeping around and lashing out at others, doing anything to avoid confronting his grief and emotions, which he keeps under the surface, bubbling and waiting to burst. Life has been unfair to him, and this behaviour that manifested sabotages any chance of career or personal growth. He might be using his mother's condition as an excuse not to step out of his comfort zone and try harder in life, which is reasonable to some extent, but he can't seem to change. In his prime, he is jobless and taking his mother's couch as a bed.

This narratively loose drama doesn't offer anything particularly new in giving us a glimpse into the struggles, both internal and external, faced by James. There is not much closure or emotional reward to be given. This is summed up perfectly in one of the very few scenes in which we see James surrendering to his emotions, crying while repeatedly yelling "I don't know what to do".

The best aspect of the film is the acting. Nixon gives an authentic, heartbreaking performance that's understated. Abbott, on the other hand, is given a character that requires patience and sensitivity to sympathize with. James internalizes many complex emotions throughout the film and what goes on in his mind is not always clear to the audience. It's a tricky act to balance but Abbott pulls it off. Their mother-son relationship is the only thing that's certain in their lives and is the core of the film.

The film could have very well ended during its most powerful and stirring scene with James and his mother in the toilet. She can't get up, so they sit and talk about what their ideal life would be like and the future they had hope for. They feel at peace as both of them stay in this moment, still and smiling. This is when the bleak reality of the film truly sets in, as we see these people, both kind and full of dreams and desires, trapped in an unfortunate life.