Directed by: Mike Mills
Premise: A journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) takes charge of his nine-year-old nephew (Woody Norman) while the boy’s mother (Gaby Hoffmann) deals with a family medical emergency.
What Works: C’mon C’mon is the story of an unmarried and childless man who is charged with caring for a young boy. It’s a scenario we’ve seen before but C’mon C’mon does it extraordinarily well. Rather than being sentimental and cute, C’mon C’mon delves into some interesting and complicated matters about family and maturity and anxiety. Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist who travels the country interviewing people of various walks of life. Johnny’s work probes the anxieties and hopes of young people, emphasizing their understanding of the older generation and the youth’s expectations for the future. Johnny has a complicated relationship with his sister, following the death of their mother, and so he is not close to his nephew Jesse, played by Woody Norman. Jesse is an eccentric and anxious boy and he’s well matched with his uncle. The relationship between Johnny and Jesse is credible and complicated. Johnny has no idea how to take care of a child and Jesse resists rules and authority. But the uncle and his nephew bond through their shared curiosity about the world and Johnny helps Jesse face the uncertainties of his home life. C’mon C’mon unifies its various pieces without feeling contrived. Both uncle and nephew have been through the ordeal of a sick parent and how that unsettles their perception of the world; the realization that our parents are vulnerable or mortal is a destabilizing experience and Johnny guides Jesse through his anxiety. Johnny’s documentary project compliments the other themes of the film as the characters learn to cope with the unpredictably of the world and the fallibility of the older generations. This is dramatized effectively throughout the movie and C’mon C’mon has two great performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman. Phoenix has a knack for playing awkward and anxious characters and he’s called upon to do that here but Phoenix is self-effacing and endearing. Norman’s performance resists Hollywood’s cute and idealized conceptions of childhood. Jesse is weird and sometimes difficult but his eccentricities make sense within the circumstances of his home life.
What Doesn’t: C’mon C’mon is distinguished by the way it defies typical Hollywood stories of adults and children bonding. It has pathos appeal but not in a way that we’re accustomed to seeing in mainstream films. That might work against it for some viewers. The story is somewhat loose; it doesn’t include familiar narrative guardrails nor does it culminate with the kind of sentimental moment that viewers might expect from this kind of story. What it offers is something better and more interesting.
Bottom Line: C’mon C’mon is a smart and terrifically acted film. The characters are complex, interesting, and funny and the filmmakers use a familiar scenario to get at deeper issues like reconciling our mortality and coping with the uncertainties of life.
Episode: #882 (December 12,2021)