When we first meet James White, the titular character in Josh Mond’s directorial debut, the reek of his intoxication is almost detectable through the screen. The camera stays tight on the face of James—played by a hirsute Christopher Abbott—as he winds his way through a booming after-hours club, boozy sweat dripping from his every pore. But make no mistake: this is not just another tale of aimless post-adolescent indulgence. Having previously produced the work of Borderline Films’s Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Antonio Campos (Simon Killer), Mond is the third member of the New York film coalition to step forward as director—and his film is the most personal of the bunch. Inspired by Mond’s own story, James White takes a deep dive into loss and the manifestations of grief.
That first night’s bender is put into harsh perspective when James stumbles out of the bar and into his estranged father’s Shiva, but the real upset comes when he learns his mother’s cancer has returned and he virtually moves into her Upper West Side apartment to become her primary caregiver. The film’s intensity hinges on Abbott’s blazing central performance: no matter how wasted his character gets, the actor’s tortured eyes always manage to convey the depths of his inner demons. Cynthia Nixon is tremendous as James’ ailing mother and the crux of the drama, but equally (if not more) moving is the take-a-bullet bond between James and his best friend cum brother, played to great avail by musician Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi). Informed by his own experience of caring for his dying mother, writer-director Mond has created a propulsive force of a film with an emotional core that’s as raw as an open wound.
We sat down with filmmaker Josh Mond at the Sundance Film Festival, where James White has since picked up the Audience Award in the NEXT section, to talk about his up close and personal film and the inner workings of the Borderline brotherhood.