Kimberly Reyes takes a look at Mike Mills’ study of familial relationships, ‘C’mon C’mon’.

In the pantheon of relationship films, the overwhelming focus on romance is a bit curious as our familial relationships are often more taxing and influential in our lives. Those tangled affairs are what writer and director Mike Mills (Beginners and 20th Century Women) explores in his film C’mon C’mon. The movie begins when two siblings, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) end their one-year estrangement, which began after the death of their mother. Viv then needs to go help her bipolar husband, Paul (Scoot McNairy), leaving her son, Jesse (Woody Norman) with the journalist Johnny. 

Beautifully shot in black and white in three of the most colorful US cities—Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans, the cinematography begs intimacy. For even more of an emotional tug, the soundtrack of the film is the voices of the children Johnny interviews, who are responding to questions about their feelings and their thoughts on the state of the planet and the future. These non-scripted interactions nicely intertwine with the characters’ contemplative, existential angst. 

In Phoenix’s first feature-length film since his frayed, hungry, and Oscar-winning performance in Joker, the now 47-year-old actor appears grey, replete, and calm. The easy-paced movement of this movie is reminiscent of the brilliant 2000 film You Can Count On Me, another sibling-driven story starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, where the action lies in the art of conversation and realization. There’s also an absorbing, brutal honesty that each character explores with one another, like when Viv admits to Johnny that while Jesse is her world, there are times she can’t bear to be in the same room with him. 

Newcomer Norman gives a promising performance as a precocious Jesse who shines when he takes on the voices of the frazzled adults around him, like when he plainly speaks of his mother: “even though we love each other, she’ll never know everything about me and I’ll never know everything about her. That’s just the way it is.” 

The movie is most satisfying when it plays with perspective. While listening back to the tapes of the children he is interviewing, Johnny acknowledges that he: “can and will leave a place, a situation, a problem. But the people I interview cannot.” Ultimately the movie is urging us to get out of our own heads and our own bubbles, so to Covid-speak. The interviewees are in complicated relationships with their families, the United States, and the world, as they touch on subjects from inequality to climate change. Yet their overriding hope for the planet is a nice parallel to the clear-eyed acceptance that is necessary for any successful relationship.

C’mon, C’mon is in cinemas 3rd December 2021


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