Review: C’mon C’mon

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In C’mon C’mon, the fourth and latest feature addition to the lauded oeuvre of indie writer-director Mike Mills, Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, an emotionally inhibited radio-journalist. Whilst working on a project interviewing young people about the human condition, Johnny is tasked with the stewardship of his quirky nine-year-old nephew, Jessie, played by newcomer Woody Norman. To the sound of The San Francisco Saxophone Quartet’s rendition of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the pair hop from city-to-city whilst Jessie’s mother tends to his mentally-ill father, forging a bond along the way. 

There’s not an awful lot happening in C’mon C’mon. At least not on the surface. No grandiose epiphanies to conclude, nor any outlandish declarations of love nor hate. Instead, the film is akin to a reflective stroll spent gently pondering the state of one’s childhood and the future we leave in our wake, and whilst on paper this could have all so easily gone wrong, just another cliché self-indulgent hipster family drama C’mon C’mon is not. 

Perhaps what is most admirable about Phoenix is his ability to exceed even the most highly cast of expectations; somehow, he consistently surprises

Phoenix follows up his Oscar winning turn as the Joker with a performance on a register as far from tyrannical and outrageous as humanly possible, yet equally impressive. Perhaps what is most admirable about Phoenix is his ability to exceed even the most highly cast of expectations; somehow, he consistently surprises. In the hands of a lesser craftsman, the character of Johnny could have come across banal and nauseating, but Phoenix is a marvel. Alongside newcomer Woody Norman, he delivers a tender and pure performance which at times, perhaps due to the odd littered ad-lib, feels so natural, almost as if he’s not acting at all. 

Though you’d never guess it given his wonderfully believable American accent, Norman is a Brit, and although only thirteen, delivers a sincerely intelligent and mature performance holding his own beside the acting might of veterans. The facile organic chemistry he shares with Phoenix gives Mills’ wonderfully inquisitive dialogue the life and substance that C’mon C’mon relies upon to work. In fact, all of the performances in C’mon C’mon are stellar. The ever reliable Gaby Hoffman is phenomenal as guilt ridden mother Viv, tirelessly attempting to care for her husband Paul, played by the impressive Scoot McNairy in a quiet but impactful role. 

A glowing example of a film willing to take the sensibilities of young people seriously

Grounded by intermittent scenes of Johnny’s project interviews, in which real non-acting children answer life’s biggest questions, the film contemplates the tragic realisation that often the maturity of adulthood blurs our recollection of childhood and how enthralling, albeit formidable, the world seems in the eyes of a child. Most importantly in this regard, C’mon C’mon is a glowing example of a film willing to take the sensibilities of young people seriously, and a filmmaker willing to treat them with intellectual respect.

The score, written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of American rock band The National, is outstanding. Delicate and subtle in tone, evoking a warm and gentle sensation of contemplation and melancholy with its expansive ambient soundscape; the ideal supplement, alongside some outstanding sound-editing, to Mills’ tender narrative. 

Shot on smooth melancholy black and white by Robbie Ryan, known for his work on The Favourite (2018) and Marriage Story (2019), C’mon C’mon is a reminder that sometimes everything isn’t okay, and that’s fine. It’s a reminder that the future is scary. Whether you’re nine and friendless or middle-aged and loveless, to embrace the unknown is daunting, but inevitable. The film above all else is contemplative. Of course, it’s warm and intimate, but at its heart C’mon C’mon forces you to project your own lives onto those you witness on screen. There’s certainly going to be a degree of difference in generational perspectives, and what you take from the film, and what you really think it is about, will no doubt change and develop over time as you enter new stages of your life. All in all, C’mon C’mon is a marvel and a wonderfully warm and tender new addition to the ever-growing and ever impressive A24 filmography. 

Image: Diana Ringo via Wikimedia Commons

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