A sense of somberness and melancholy wash over the screen of writer director Mike Mills new film C’mon C’mon. Shot in a dreary black and white color palette lives a story that asks all of life’s pressing questions while simultaneously breaking people out of their comfort zones by expressing every emotion imaginable under the sun. Using the muted, bleak gradient allows for the focus to be taken away from the environment and put it toward the subjects of the story – the characters that inhabit this world. No distractions from outside of the sandbox, even in the busiest city in the country where no one sleeps.
Getting later in the year means only one thing – for your consideration for the upcoming Oscar season. C’mon C’mon certainly invokes the buzz surrounding it with two brilliantly raw performances but not much else is left desired from the 108-minute runtime. In fact, it’s unfortunate but many wont venture to their local theater to see this story because of the ongoing pandemic. It may not be a must see for the general movie going audience but those who will go see it, understand its importance. A good example of this comes from my experience with seeing the film – I was the only one in my theater.
Traveling the country interviewing kids about their lives with his partners is Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix). While in Detroit, his estranged sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) calls to have him come out to Los Angeles and help watch her son Jesse (Woody Norman) while Viv helps her ex-husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) with his mental illness. Jesse and Johnny quickly form a bond together despite their rough personalities – Johnny staying to himself which caused the rift between him and Viv and Jesse dealing with undisclosed or undiagnosed mental issues himself. In short, the two together for a long period of time is a ticking time bomb.
Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic and all (the man has nothing else to prove as an actor) but Woody Norman gives the standout performance. If no one knows his name now as an unknown, he will soon be a household name. A star was born during this film – Norman portraying every emotion effortlessly as if he was a seasoned actor for 20 plus years. If anyone gets academy recognition from C’mon C’mon, its Norman – his entire performance will captivate anyone who witnesses it.
I don’t think I was ready for how in-depth Mike Mills would take this story. No subject is left out of discussion. How we act, think, and feel – how we see ourselves and what we believe will happen in the future all while discovering and exploring different cultures and groups of people across the country. Johnny ad Jesse travel to New York and New Orleans – two very diverse places in the United States. And while the themes are presented – some of them don’t leave a lasting impact in the way they were set up. Majority of the time Jesse is causing mayhem because he’s a kid – running away because he thinks it’s funny. Getting lost in Manhattan is never a fun time – many adults can’t handle the stress of navigating the streets (Its literally a grid), but when a child is lost, it’s devastating. Jesse is given a pass – I get he doesn’t know Johnny because Johnny keeps everything locked up to the point of frustration in expressing his emotions, but the adult is right to feel mad.
Maybe that’s the point of the journey, Jesse doing what Jesse does to get Johnny to open up more and finally talk about himself and his life. It may just play out that Jesse is obnoxious that doesn’t care about the rules and will do or say whatever is on his mind no matter who it hurts. Viv certainly takes a lot of Jesse’s frustrations – her divorce with Paul doesn’t help. Kids of divorce will always find a way to lash out – that’s just how it is. It just speaks to Mills’s screenplay, it’s almost too realistic, borderline heavy handed.
Opening up to a child is a lot to ask of an adult especially when that’s all they are doing is asking you, repeatedly, over and over. Wanting to protect them most of all from harsh truths and realities they aren’t ready for can cause distance and resentment. Johnny and Viv are estranged because of their mother’s death, Johnny’s last relationship and her marriage to Paul. That’s a lot to put on a 9-year old’s shoulders. But Jesse is no ordinary 9-year-old. I half expected him to be diagnosed with some mental disorder. Therein lies the brilliance of Norman’s performance – convincing the audience something may be wrong is ultimately left up to interpretation.
Because of Norman, Phoenix’s performance is elevated. Both have wonderfully charming and silly chemistry but when the film gets real, the gravitas immediately changes the mood.
C’mon C’mon will be very divisive among moviegoers. For its short runtime, the film moves very slowly through the journey of exploration. At times it felt like hours when only 10 minutes passed. Woody Norman is the clear standout in a film that includes Joaquin Phoenix. The black and white color scheme vacuums up all distractions even the score by Aaron and Bryce Dessner (I didn’t even hear the music until the final 10 minutes) leaving the focus to be on the characters. It absolutely has the independent A24’s thumbprint on all over this film – cinephiles will clamor over the themes and messages while some may see the film as pretentious and heavy handed. I still don’t know how I feel about the film as whole – I rather enjoyed some elements more than others.
Written By: Mike Mills
Directed By: Mike Mills
Music By: Aaron and Bryce Dessner
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Woody Norman
Release Date: Nov 19, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5