Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike Mills
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffman, Scoot McNairy.
Writer and director Mike Mills (Beginners, etc) has produced an intelligent, sensitive and profound study of the human condition and the importance of connection. This is a slight and decidedly arthouse film that may not hold broad appeal.
Johnny (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a radio journalist who recording a podcast series in which he interviews a number of children about their future and the future of America. Then he receives a phone call from his estranged sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman), a musician who suffers from occasional bouts of depression. He and Viv had fallen out a few years earlier over the treatment and care of their ailing mother. When she has to look after her mentally ill husband Paul (Scoot McNairy), Viv asks him to look after her precocious nine year old son Jesse (relative newcomer Woody Norman). Johnny spends time with Jesse, an observant, curious and intelligent child whose attitude often challenges Johnny’s world view. Jesse accompanies Johnny as he visits various cities to conduct his interviews. Slowly both begin to open up about their own personal issues, insecurities and fears and a strong bond develops between them. But in caring for Jesse and learning how to care for the boy, Johnny also begins to heal the rift between himself and Viv.
Phoenix often plays intense and flawed characters (think of his volatile Oscar winning turn in Joker), but here he seems more relaxed and laidback as Johnny as he learns what it means to be a parent. The film features a precocious, energetic, natural and engaging performance from the young Norman, who seems mature for his age. He is a revelation and his performance is a match for Phoenix. Phoenix and Norman develop a good rapport as the film develops, and the banter between the pair comes across as natural and unforced.
C’mon C’mon is part road movie, part coming of age tale and it is filled with a spirit of optimism. Like his previous two films – Beginners and 20th Century Women – this film has a deeply personal feel to it. C’mon C’mon was largely inspired by Mills’ own experiences of becoming a father for the first time, and it explores the fears and wonder of becoming a parent and having responsibility for caring for a young child. His direction is empathetic and he makes us care about these characters.
The film has been shot in crisp black and white by Oscar nominated cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Marriage Story, etc), who captures some striking images of the Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans locations, and gives the material a melancholy tone. However, there are the occasional moments of colour via flashbacks and 16mm shots.