C’mon C’mon (2021)
C’mon C’mon (2021)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: November 19th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mike Mills Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White

 


 

I

n Detroit, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) interviews several children about their thoughts on adults, the future, the responsibilities of their elders, local tragedies, the need to change, what inspires them, and numerous other topics. In a hopeful sentiment, many of the kids suggest that things will get better in the years to come. The subjects are non-actors and their responses sound completely improvised, which go along nicely with the black-and-white cinematography (perhaps utilized to draw attention away from visuals for the sake of focusing on sounds and conversations, which are of far more importance here), infusing an artistry that contrasts with the coming story – one of utter realism.

“So who’s watching Jesse?” When Johnny speaks with his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) on the phone, she informs him that she’ll be needing to travel to Oakland to check up on Paul (Scoot McNairy), the father of her son Jesse (Woody Norman). Paul has been having mental health episodes that require some attention, leaving Viv to ask Uncle Johnny to travel to Los Angeles to babysit 9-year-old Jesse. The boy is funny, sweet, a touch strange, and overflowing with personality and quirks – such as elaborate make-believe scenarios (“Why not just do something normal?”) – but Johnny is immediately amused by their frank exchanges. “Are you ready for this?”

The background music is unusually cinematic and portends something profound, particularly as the offbeat couple get to know each other through casual chatting, day-to-day routines, and relaxing walks along the beach, oftentimes involving the use of Johnny’s recording equipment, with which Jesse is diverted. Flashbacks detail some of the difficulties in Johnny’s past, including issues that led to a rift between brother and sister, but it’s the down-to-earth, relatable interactions between Johnny and Jesse that remain most engaging. “C’mon C’mon” is essentially a 3-person show, boasting incredibly strong performances, hinting at commonalities between “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Marriage Story” as it embraces and scrutinizes very universal themes and situations, put under the pressures of life’s unpredictabilities. The little misadventures undertaken by the lead duo are never outrageous or exaggerated; from a trip to New York to a job opportunity in New Orleans, the film never strays from its slice-of-life intentions, harnessing vignettes of informal, upbeat, marvelously pleasant bonding and maturation.

“Nobody knows what they’re doing.” Johnny gets a chance to see what it would be like to have a child of his own, while Jesse welcomes an opportunity to have a stable father figure back in his life. Within this premise are moments of humor – but in a spontaneous, believable manner, never manufactured for the sake of easy laughs – and moments of heartbreak, as commentary on humanity, immaturity, parenting (such as gingerly navigating complicated, adult notions to a child), and familial drama surface. It’s an exceptionally human, charming snapshot of average people doing ordinary activities, designed so that none of it is unsuitably astonishing; its attractiveness is in its simplicity. Many of the more penetrating sequences are quiet and calm, allowing operatic music (and a phenomenal soundtrack selection) and observational, nonjudgmental perspectives to impart a certain profundity; its easygoing and optimistic nature is difficult to dismiss, even when light conflict arises (a lack of dramatic conflict suggests more of a documentary than a fictional narrative at times).

Ultimately, the picture is smartly paced, well constructed, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. In its study of writing, communication, and understanding – all focused on the idea that adults struggle to comprehend what children go through as they cope with various familial traumas – the filmmakers have transformed a small collection of actors and locations into something notably grand. The performances are unforgettable and the emotions are high; “C’mon C’mon” is a moving, masterful work, shaping conventional characters and interactions into insightful, philosophical, good-natured wonderment.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10