Even when you’re not entirely sure of what you are doing, family comes first…
While C’mon C’mon has a few awkward and cloying moments that will play right into the wheel house of middle class white people, this film is imbued with such genuine kindness and a stunning lead performance that it’s actually hard to turn away from.
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a kind-hearted radio journalist deep into a project in which he interviews children across the U.S. about our world’s uncertain future. His sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), asks him to watch her 8-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman), while she tends to the child’s father, who’s suffering from mental health issues. After agreeing, Johnny finds himself connecting with his nephew in ways he hadn’t expected, ultimately taking Jesse with him on a journey from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans.
The genuine magic about C’mon C’mon is that in spite of its occasional clunky tone, it’s a film that isn’t driven to some grand revelation or dramatic realisation; it’s about being present in the moment and accepting life warts and all.
It’s predictable, yet filled with flourishes that make it feel like something genuinely unique that we’ve never seen before. Most of that comes from the writing of Mike Mills which allows us to feel those every day things that so many of us genuinely struggle with. Relating with anyone is hard, especially when we’re all going through moments in our lives that are generally inexplicable. You can never really explain family, but it’s such a universal dynamic across cultural and gender lines that it doesn’t actually ever need to be said because it’s wholly rewarding and completely maddening all at the same time.
Mills focuses the story through the prism of youth and in concert with some immaculate photography in black and white because it reminds us that while the struggles of youth that we feel are supposed to be black & white in hindsight rarely ever are. Sure the lack of genuine arcs and narrative in this film that is more than anything a moment in time for this family can get a little maddening especially considering that Mills is skewing VERY white and middle class here; but they are always genuine which really makes these film like the awkward confluence of art and real life which comes through so immaculately in the film’s leading performance.
In a career that has been rife with flashy performances, Joaquin Phoenix shows up here with what just be his quietest, most understated yet far and away the best performance of his career.
No matter how you are tackling a role, this film is a clear example of how you have to come at a role with genuine nuance. Joaquin gives us his Johnny as a man, getting through his life and his grief the best way he can, by himself. So when young Jesse is thrown into the mix he’s gone from “Uncle Johnny” to primary care giver and the honest way that he tackles that dynamic with his young ward in town is just stunningly charming because Woody Norman as his nephew Jesse is just an absolute spitfire who can share the frame with Phoenix at a level that is rarely seen. They are a duo that is discovering this shared dynamic that have as nephew and uncle for the first time and it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Abby Hoffman does a wonderful job in support as the mother/sister to this pair, but its Phoenix and Norman who carry what could have been a ‘Hallmark’ level saccharine story into something that feels genuinely human.
Ultimately, C’mon C’mon is a reminder that the best relationships in anyway walk of life are built on honesty and that it’s better to admit as an adult that you can be a little lost and confused with life then trying to lie to a kid who is still trying to figure out which way is up. By the end of it all, Writer/Director Mike Mills gives a genuine perspective on the relationship between kids and adults that is often over looked. Things just go better when everyone treats each other with just a little bit of respect for what the other person is dealing with.