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C’mon C’mon Provides a Lesson in Sensitivity

Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) reads a book to (Jessie) (Wood Norman)

C’Mon C’mon could be viewed in a social science class to teach adults how to behave. Writer/Director Mike Mills constructs a thoughtful and instructive tale about youth, maturity, and the many obstacles life places in front of us. Joaquin Phoenix is cast well against his usual type. Strangely, he’s is a great, out-of-the-box choice with a sweet side in personality I haven’t seen him show before and wish I had.

The plot is simple narrative wise. Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a radio podcast host who travels the country asking children about their future. When not travelling the country, Johnny resides in his Manhattan apartment. His sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) has a rocky relationship with Johnny since caring for their ailing mother. Viv tries to raise her son Jessie (Woody Norman) on her own since his father Paul (Scoot McNairy) is a frequent sanitarium patient.

Attempting to assist Viv in her overwhelming life, Johnny decides to fly Jessie to his place in New York City without informing his sister. In New York, Jessie acts as an assistant to Johnny’s podcast. He points the mic to other children, hearing Johnny through a pair of headphones ask kids about happiness, death, and their future. Viv’s reception to the news of her son’s unannounced trip to the big apple isn’t remotely believable. I understand this is a film about the power of managing our emotions, but you’ve got to be kidding me! It’s difficult enough to take my nephew to Chuck E Cheese. If I hauled him off to New York City, my sister would file a restraining order against me.

Courtesy A24
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles to get an overactive Jessie (Wood Norman) to bed.

Aside from that grievance, the relationship between Johnny and Jesse is magnetic. Writer/Director Mike Mills takes his time, allowing itself to spend intimate moments between the two. C’mon C’mon isn’t based on a dramatic turn of events, but merely polite interactions where Johnny incrementally learns how to become a father. What starts as a relationship where the nephew is fun to be around, turns into a headache.

C’Mon C’mon’ looks like it’s made with a skeleton crew similar to Malcolm & Marie. Equipped with only a sound recording kit, Johnny has to conduct interviews as a one-man-band. Mike Mills is doing the classic making a movie about making a movie. In this case, a radio show. How it pays Johnny’s bills, I’d be curious to know.

Courtesy A24
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) lets Jessie (Woody Norman) play with his sound equipment. Image Courtesy of A24

The camera spends most of its time in a single room or public places with its two leads. The budget must be more significant than it appears because anyone would recognize a camera following Joaquin Phoenix around with a little kid, but Mills intentionally makes it look cheap without devaluing the production design.

The black and white makes the movie appear lower budget than it really is as a nod to Joaquin’s character. Johnny’s a man who doesn’t make a lot of money but is content doing what he loves since it makes him a more sensitive person. That sensitivity is what Jessie was missing from a male figure in his life.

At first, Jessie is fun to be around. The young tike has a brain that moves a mile a minute, always wondering what new things he can learn. Of course, this follows up with an endless series of questions driving Johnny up the walls. Gradually he understands the difficulties his sister faces with raising a child on her own.

C’mon C’mon exists within an environment I wished I had grown up in, one where we know that it’s okay to talk about our feelings and listen to our children instead of ignoring them. Jessie constantly pries into Johnny’s life by pointing the microphone at him, asking Johnny about his divorce and loneliness, mimicking what Johnny does an interviewer. Because Jessie’s a kid, he’s brave enough to ask such incendiary questions, but his intentions are compassionate. The respect Jessie has for Johnny breeds curiosity since Johnny interviews everyone else about their lives.

Having to reflect on himself, Johnny enjoys hanging around Jessie forming an unbreakable friendship that surpasses lineage. Two valuable truths are taught in the film: We don’t know what we’re doing, and it’s okay not to be okay. Boy, I wish I knew that second one as a kid.

Mike Mills makes a slow cinema at its best where the intentionality of the pace doesn’t get lost in metaphors. It’s is a story about patience, being helpful to the ones we love and making new friends along the way. C’mon C’mon is a splendid, restrained, cinematic celebration of life worth observing.

Written by Mike Crowley

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