Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny
Gaby Hoffmann as Viv
Woody Norman as Jesse
Scoot McNairy as Paul
Molly Webster as Roxanne
Director: Mike Mills
Johnny is an emotionally stunted and softspoken radio journalist who travels the country interviewing a variety of kids about their thoughts concerning their world and their future. Then Johnny’s saddled with caring for his young nephew Jesse. Jesse brings a new perspective and, as they travel from state to state, effectively turns the emotional tables on Johnny.
C’mon C’mon was one of the remaining 2021 movies I was looking to catch up on. I haven’t seen many films from director Mike Mills, but the one movie I did watch, 20th Century Women, was great. I also knew that Joaquin Phoenix was in it, fresh off his Oscar winning performance in Joker, and it was shot in black and white. I went in fairly blind outside of hearing that it was something of a dramedy, and came out of it thinking that it was really good.
C’mon C’mon is a feel good dramedy and very much a slice of life movie. The plot is not driven by anything, although the focus is on an uncle, Johnny, and his nephew, Jesse, played respectively by Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman. I can tell this is a movie that won’t be for everyone. Not that it’s incredibly artsy or anything, but it is probably one of the most understated movies from the past year. It really could have ended up as just a sweet yet formulaic story focussing on a family centric affair. However it is also one of the most genuine and honest movies I’ve seen in a while, and it hits hard on an emotional level. The screenplay is poetic and asks probing and life affirming questions, while being incredibly compassionate and tender. It is a heartfelt story about growing up, parenthood, and how it’s okay to admit that you’re not okay. It helps how naturalistic the movie feels, especially with the authentic dialogue. Something noteworthy it takes children seriously, even beyond Jesse. A big part of the movie is that it has Johnny and his crew interviewing kids for a documentary, the kids being interviewed are giving unscripted answers to these questions. I found these scenes and their inclusions to be quite effective, and really provides more perspective on life. The central relationship between the main two characters is the main focus of the movie and is well handled. Along with learning through the children he interviews, Johnny learns just as much from Jesse as Jesse does from him. In terms of problems, there is some minor issues with pacing in the third act but that’s about it.
A big part of why the movie works as well as it did were the strong and believable performances. First of all is Joaquin Phoenix who gives one of his best performances here. Phoenix is usually known for his darker or unhinged roles like in Joker or The Master. However, in this movie he gives one of his warmer and lighter performances. He portrays his character in such a subtle yet genuine and believable way. His scenes with Woody Norman are fantastic, but the scenes where he interviews children about the future are just as good. Equally good as Phoenix is Woody Norman as his nephew, who was incredibly believable and nuanced, and one of the best child performances I’ve in recent memory. He really does hold his own against Phoenix and the pairing of the two are great, with their chemistry natural and believable. The other performances were good and fitted in well, especially Gaby Hoffman as Phoenix’s sister and Norman’s mother.
I haven’t seen many of Mike Mills’s films outside of 20th Century Women, however with that and C’mon C’mon I can say that he is a good director. The first thing you’ll notice with this movie is the black and white cinematography, which is stunning to look at. The black and white aesthetic never feels like a gimmick, it actually looks good, and it meshes well with how simple and old fashioned of a story this is. Everything is framed nicely, and I really liked the way that cityscapes were captured. I also loved how it felt weightless with the use of the camerawork. Another thing that worked well was the ethereal score from Aaron and Bryce Dessner, perfectly setting the mood and tone and drawing you into its vibe.
C’mon C’mon is a heartfelt, poignant and feel-good dramedy, beautifully shot and directed and has fantastic performances, especially from Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman. It has been overlooked generally especially from awards season, but I recommend giving it a watch when you can, it’s one of the highlights of 2021.