Written by Mike Mills
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Woody Norman
2021 | R | 1h 49min
Streaming: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu
Director Mike Mills was already on everyone’s radar because of the success of 20th Century Women (2016) with Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig, as well as Beginners (2010) with Evan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.
With C’mon C’mon, Mills takes the viewer into the delicate complexity of family dynamics – between brother and sister, between parent and offspring, between adult and child. It is a gradual but moving journey, and well worth the viewer’s time and patience.
Filmed in black and white and a dozen shades of gray, the movie first focuses on relationships within one family. Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) travels a lot in his job, but remains close to his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) and her young son Jesse (Woody Norman). Viv’s estranged husband Paul (Scott McNairy) is not doing well mentally and emotionally, and she has too big a heart to let him struggle alone.
What to do with her sensitive and bright son Jesse while his father slowly loses contact with reality? Viv places a call to her brother Johnny and asks him to take care of her son. Johnny is blindsided by this request and cannot figure out how this would work. Make it happen, Viv pleads.
The rest of the film deals with that effort on the part of Johnny and nine-year-old Jesse, as they travel from city to city, as Johnny finds a way to bring Jesse into his work as a radio journalist, as he performs the work he loves. Each character is cast perfectly, and the actors play off each other as though they have known each other for years.
Long phone conversations between Phoenix as Johnny and Hoffman as Viv allow us to peel back the layers of the relationship of these siblings and see the effort it takes to keep in touch with family during difficult and desperate moments, such as quarreling over how to handle their mother’s final illness.
There is Viv’s beautifully expressive face as she leans into the telephone, and her son’s moments of acting out as he tests the patience of his mother and his uncle in city parks and airports and restaurants. Does my mom really love me? Why can’t I go home?
The answers are simple, profound, moving because the youngsters realize they are being listened to. Their answers are recorded.
Watching his uncle listen to Jesse is not a surprise after we witness how Johnny earns his living. He is wedded to a recording device, headphones and a microphone in city after city as his staff arranges for him to interview preteens and adolescents.
After getting the appropriate permissions, Johnny and his staff take turns creating safe spaces for kids to answer gently worded questions about who they are, where they are, and what they hope for the future. The answers are simple, profound, moving because the youngsters realize they are being listened to. Their answers are recorded.
The movie soundtrack is wide-ranging and uninhibited. The black and white cinematography in C’mon C’mon is amazing.
With a limited release in theaters in November 2021, C’mon C’mon began streaming last December.
Lead photo: A24 films