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Film Review: ‘C’mon C’mon’ (dir. Mike Mills)

C’MON C’MON looks to the future in this genuinely heartfelt story that is visually stunning and makes even the most mundane emotions and parts of life seem universally felt. This character feels the closest to Joaquin Phoenix and is such a 180 from his role as the Joker. Woody Norman offers such an honest, realistic child perspective unlike any kid actor I’ve ever seen.

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C’mon C’mon directed by Mike Mills starring Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, and Gaby Hoffmann is now playing in select theaters. Phoenix plays a documentary filmmaker interviewing children about the humanity. Hoffmann plays his sister, whose son is Jesse, played by Norman.

C’mon C’mon looks to the future in one of the most genuinely heartfelt stories of the year that makes the mundane feel universal. This character feels the closest to Joaquin Phoenix, and Woody Norman offers such a realistic perspective of a child. Then, wrap the earnest movie up into stunning visuals.

With a score that combines both operatic and symphonic elements, Bryce and Aaron Dessner really made an exquisite piece of art in the score alone. I absolutely fell in love with how the music shifted with the location, going from Detroit to Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans. It’s almost subtle enough that you don’t notice it because it’s such a perfect fit. However, if you’re like me and enjoy those nuances in filmmaking and music making, it’s a really special and essential component.

Woody Norman provides the most honest look at a child. Kids can be annoying sometimes. They ask a lot of questions, and they think they have a lot of answers. Kids have these chaotic and crazy and weird thoughts and ideas adults never would.

This role feels the closest to Joaquin Phoenix as a person. I don’t say that in regards to the “mean” parts of the character, though. I mean to say that Phoenix, as a person, has a very forward way of thinking, and he looks to the future in concern similar to Johnny. I honestly cannot think of a role more opposite to Joker than what Johhny is in C’mon C’mon, and for Phoenix to take on these projects back-to-back is a testament to the versatility and range he has as an actor.

Norman and Phoenix have the most incredible chemistry that feels so natural. I would love to see some footage of what their interactions were like behind the scenes. Their partnership looks so easy. Woody Norman is so fearless in his role, and he makes the big feelings that his character undergoes feel so real. They navigate through this honest story, peeling back layer by layer and digging deeper and deeper until we discover the core of their connection.

Gaby Hoffmann feels like the underrated player here. Obviously, the highlight is going to be the sweet kid’s heartfelt relationship with his abrasive uncle. However, the only reason that connection exists is because of Hoffmann’s character. Her performance is raw and real in the most painful of ways. I loved the grounded-ness she brought to this, even when she is playing a character unlike anybody I’ve ever quite met. The B-storyline involving her and her husband felt a little bit loaded for what it was, but it was also necessary. 

I want a documentary on how they interviewed this kids. That feels like a whole film within itself. I love when a movie transforms into this Russian doll set of filmmaking, and this was an unexpected treat. Some people will find this element distracting or irrelevant, but I thought it paired perfectly with the level of insight we glean from Johnny and Jesse’s interactions. These kids offer up such insightful ideas and things that are so original, and it feels so genuine and unscripted in the best of ways.

There is so much insight into familial relationships: mother-son, brother-sister, uncle-nephew, husband-wife. It isn’t scared to take it there. Families fight. There are things said. Siblings might go a while and not speak. Children don’t understand why. It was so human.

That makes it sound pretty depressing and gloomy, but the way Mike Mills structures it all allows it to feel hopeful and relatable. It feels like it really wants you to know that it’s alright to relate to this, even if you don’t want to relate to this. It also lets you know that you get a second chance to make things right. That empathy is unlike anything I’ve seen lately.

This is doing all of those A24-isms that you expect them to do so well. You’ve got the exceptional visual quality. There’s a cute kid in his acting debut offering up insane insight and wisdom-beyond-his-years and one-liners. There’s a bonus element thrown into the mix that feels a little off — in this case, the inclusion of the interviews and that whole process. Everything is firing at 100 cylinders, but the nice thing is that you don’t feel it. There’s a gentle hum beneath the surface of this film that leaves a lot to be appreciated.

Rather than laying all of its cards out at the beginning, it works its way there, starting out more broadly before honing in on the central storyline at play. This paints an honest, not always pretty, picture of what it’s like to be a child and be a sister and be a brother and be an uncle.

Keeping up with the trailers and all the promotional materials before I actually saw the film, I honestly thought to myself, “Why does this need to be in black-and-white? Is it just to be different? Is it really just so it looks cool?” Now, having obviously seen the film, it makes sense, though. The cinematography is some of the best you’ll find, and it’s way more than just a black-and-white filter thrown over a good story. The picture pulls out the most rich tones on the grayscale, finding an atypical range of shades that is absolutely stunning.

This could have gone in a really boring direction really fast. Like, they could have simply turned in a film about a nephew connecting with his uncle and called it a day. That would’ve still been a decent movie, but what we get here instead is such a raw and provocative film.

C’mon C’mon sits comfortably within the grays of life; not the black and white. Nothing is quite as defined as we sometimes make it out to be in life, and the story here really plays up the idea that we can fit into the gray areas of life, and it’s okay to fit in there.

C’mon C’mon is now playing in select theaters.

One reply on “Film Review: ‘C’mon C’mon’ (dir. Mike Mills)”

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