C’mon C’mon, 2021.
Written and Directed by Mike Mills.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, and Sarah Klein.
A radio journalist embarks on a cross-country trip with his young nephew.
There are real-life concerns about the planet’s future and the emotional struggles of a fictional estranged family in writer/director Mike Mills’s multilayered and poignantly observed road trip C’mon C’mon. Which pressing global issue depresses a variety of interviewee children of all ages frequently comes up with makes for piercing insight considering the documentary-like radio casting approach, as the uncle/nephew duo (masterfully played by Joaquin Phoenix, with relative newcomer Woody Norman stealing hearts as a socially awkward nine-year-old trying to get a handle on the gloomier aspects of the relationship between mom and dad) travel across hot-spot metropolises around the US for as many perspectives as possible (the film also does not take place during any form of the ongoing pandemic despite the numerous timely topical confessions).
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) attempts to make good with his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann, offered a surprising amount of character depth as she learns her way through being the best mom possible for a son that enjoys role-playing as an orphan) after a seemingly nasty falling out following the death of their dementia- saddled mother. Naturally, he’s curious if he can come up to Los Angeles and visit, wondering if Jesse has any memories before tumultuous periods. Viv’s rocky marriage with her mentally unwell husband Paul (Scoot McNairy, not overselling any tics or turning the performance into a caricature, whose life has been thrown into chaos he can’t handle due to work changes and a dramatic personality shift that requires an eye on him at all times).
With Viv away in Oakland to de-escalate that position, Johnny takes Jesse to New York on business. And while plenty of comedic shenanigans ensue, it’s the situations they unspool in that add a clever touch on usual tropes such as fitting in or acknowledging when things are not okay, but here without sugarcoating the ongoing terrors of the world. It’s also apparent that Johnny is not fit for guardianship, not sure of how much sugar to give the boy, or during downbeat inquiries into why his uncle is not married or what exactly happened between his parents. Devastatingly, Jesse is also a boy that neither his mom nor uncle might understand how to properly emotionally care for (he seems anxious and is occasionally odd), which proves to be a teary-eyed conversation for anyone, especially those that can relate. The same applies to subtitled texting conversations with Viv, posted on-screen in a standard font without any useless or pointless stylistic flare. The monochrome cinematography remains paramount to the gorgeous look of the film.
The humorous lines also take fascinating advantage of audio tricks, sometimes playing around with the microphone or little catchphrases that essentially tie every thread together (whether it be the growing uncle/nephew bond or how society pushes on through such a bleak world). Several monologues tap into the hellfire kitchen that is parenting (at times, through Johnny’s frustrations, the script seems to be weaving in subtle hints that despite being centered on an uncle, C’mon C’mon is secretly a sharp look at the trials and tribulations of motherhood).
C’mon C’mon also utilizes the framing device of Johnny asking depressing questions to children to brilliantly underscore that, while there are plenty of amusing back-and-forths between Johnny and Jesse (never crossing a line into unnecessarily crude, still containing F-bombs and sensitive looks at different mental struggles), the story is life-affirmingly pure of heart. Much like humor in real life can diffuse the problems and pain around us, C’mon C’mon fundamentally understands that to the core while increasingly expanding on the world’s suffering in the background, a background that’s as emotionally arresting as anything else in the movie. Its black-and-white photography suggests a life trained of happiness and promise, but the characters never give up breaking up through and connecting.
Through it all, Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman are mesmerizing, delivering turns both preciously heartrending and balls of charming weirdness. The only nick is that some subplots conveniently resolve and are unsatisfactory. The future might be fucked up indeed, so luckily, with C’mon C’mon, Mike Mills knows how to untangle that mess into unquestionably moving cinema.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com