What’s the Story: Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a radio journalist who goes around the country to different cities interviewing kids about what they think about the future and the current climate we are currently living in. After calling his estranged sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) after a fall out following their dying mother, she asks him to look after her nine-year-old son Jesse (Woody Norman) in Los Angeles. At the same time, she helps her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) with his mental health issues and gets him checked in somewhere. Johnny decides it would be a good idea, which begins a transformative experience for this relationship between adults and children.
You must hand it to writer/director Mike Mills to get you the feels after the movie’s over. C’mon C’mon is his latest drama from A24, and if you’ve seen his previous films like 2011’s Beginners (I still need to watch) and 2016’s 20th Century Women (An underrated dramedy), then you have some kind of idea of what kind of drama you’re in for. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see this early, that is until a mutual friend of mine also saw it recently at the New York Film Festival and loved it. That reason was good enough, and thankfully, I found myself invested with C’mon C’mon in a way that’s beautiful and full of compassion.
The thing I took notice quickly was how Mills told a story that had a natural mood where it felt like you’re watching real-life happening on screen, and it’s sometimes rare for everything to be shot in sequence. Sure, there might be some familiarity, but that doesn’t remotely matter since I found myself taken back by how honest and funny this tale came about. Since Mills has a kid, it’s no wonder the film paints a picture of not only parenthood but about how even adults can learn much more from children they know so well. He took the inspiration he had shared with his son to make this.
Sometimes the truth about how we think the potential future will bring sounds complicated enough. But it’s easy to take away from the sudden connection we tend to have to a friend or someone related to make sure if parenting seems right for them. Even as someone in his mid20s, I never thought about how this generation will think of a planet going through changes, and it asks what they hope to happen to keep things in check for better or worse. You learn something new every day, and that has always been true. We never know all the answers to complicated questions about life, but you never know what perspective will give it to you straight. C’mon C’mon presents this sheer sense of optimism about life that’s going to possibly stay me with since I’ve always wanted to know what others have in mind when it comes to the next phase.
But what’s not going to be ignored are the central performances of its two leads that are my favorite this year. Joaquin Phoenix gave his first film following his Oscar-winning turn in Joker two years ago, and it’s such a complete 180 in how his character, Johnny, is more subtle and primarily easy-going. You’re not expecting him to go crazy at any moment when we see an emotionally charged role that challenges him to be good-hearted in taking care of his nephew. But if you want someone to be the ultimate scene-stealer, we are going to be talking about breakout Woody Norman effortlessly. His performance as Jesse is incredible, almost out-acting his co-star since you usually wouldn’t think all nine-year-olds act all intelligent and authentic, and here comes Norman with this approach I bought every time. After it was over, there was a recorded interview after the screening with Heartland Artistic Director Greg Sorvig talking with Norman, and we were caught off guard to find out he’s British. Now that’s when you know we’re looking at one of the best child performances in a while. The two of them make for some of the best chemistry put to a screen where I believed this was a real relationship between an uncle and nephew, even when they don’t express their emotions on the outside. They didn’t seem like they were acting as they were just ordinary people, not actors. Gaby Hoffman was also great, and just the idea of casting her and Phoenix as siblings is kind of genius.
Mills’ screenplay delivers some pleasant moments of dialogue with just scenes of talking with Johnny and Jesse or when Johnny’s on the phone with Viv. However, I would believe there were some improved scenes to help make the film feel more natural. All of this was present in striking black-and-white cinematography from Robbie Ryan (The Favourite) that never came off as showy for the sake of being an indie, especially in capturing the buildings and streets of New York that could’ve taken place in the late ’70s for all I know. You might think that’s there’s not much in such a small story, but there’s more under the surface to what we have to feel. The only flaw I had while watching was the interviews with the kids that were conducted for the purpose of showing Johnny’s profession, and it did start to get repetitive when it takes away from what we should’ve been seeing with the main two. They were interesting, but you already know how they will turn out.
Overall, I feel C’mon C’mon will be favorable amongst the A24 crowd, and it’ll scream Criterion Collection. Watching this will make you realize how lucky we are to have people that care about us, and it made me excited for the day I’ll become an uncle to my future niece/nephew or a kid of my own as I’ll have someone to have a strong connection with someday. A few moments will have you tear up, as did I, but this is one of my favorites to come out this year. When it comes out in November, do you’re part and seek this out if it’s playing near you.
Final Thoughts: C’mon C’mon is one of the most grounded films I’ve seen in a while. Mike Mills’ tale of human connection will deeply resonate with anyone. It’s surprisingly funny, beautifully shot, great dialogue, and has unbelievable performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman, who are both Oscar-worthy.