Written by: Mike Mills
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Woody Norman, Molly Webster
Adults with fewer years left on Earth left what they have already lived certainly hold a different view of what the future will bring than the youngsters who will inherit it all in the end. Whether it be a level of apathy from the older generation or if hope remains in the youth who will have to clean up whatever mess gets left behind. Through direct interviews, C’mon C’mon seeks the answers to these questions all while enveloped in a wonderfully heartwarming tale of familial love.
With her husband struggling with his mental health, Viv (Gaby Hoffman) asks her brother Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) to step in and look after her son Jesse (Woody Norman). After several days spending time with his nephew, Johnny decides to take him along as he continues his project of gaining the perspective of the young folks of this country on their view of the future.
Biological parents have the time to prepare for what it means to look after another human being but those, like Johnny, that get thrust into it can understandably be very concerned with the immense pressure. Looking out for the welfare of another human comes with this enormous strain, especially for someone as young as Jesse in this feature where his development very much remains in flux. The smallest things could leave a monumental impact, which heavily weighs on the mind of Johnny as we traverse through this narrative. It all becomes about processing for him in this journey and the level of warmth emitted from this feature just allows for this dialogue to have a nurturing feeling to it, which benefits the quality overall.
With it coming along with black-and-white cinematography, this feature’s warmth leaves a discernible impact, especially as the conversations continue. Nothing about it can be seen as striking to the eye, but its soft touch very much matches the tone and the affection occurring between these characters. A level of care exists here and it permeates every scene. Whether it be a phone call between Johnny and Viv in the former trying to get advice from the latter or when interviewing the young children of this country. It certainly reaches the desired effect of the feature in such a positive manner.
Having the interviews with these young children gives such a reassuring feeling because none of them were scripted. So when you see Johnny question these youngsters about how they see the world and how it will impact them going forward, these genuine answers demonstrate the old saying “The kids are alright.” They recognize the environmental dangers they have ahead of them because of the generations who have preceded them. What can be viewed as some unbearable weight with the possibilities of a future apocalypse gets simmered down by realizing the maturity and understanding of these kids acknowledging the hands they have been dealt and how they must move forward. Having Joaquin Phoenix improvise when hearing their genuine answers also adds to this level of realism to everything happening during these interviews that only continues to add to the allure of this feature.
With this being a film filled to the brim with dialogue, it came as no surprise Mike Mills delivered yet another gem. Coming back from quite the hiatus from his last feature in 20th Century Women, he decides to pivot from focusing between a child and motherly figures to now paternal ones. Something that very much matches what he tries to do through his narratives as seen through his filmography and once again crafts something so close to the heart and genuine in its presentation. You can feel his heart and soul running through this feature, especially with plenty of the story carrying the anxiety of being a parent and how he has worked through that in his life.
As with the writing, you need the actors to deliver it all and we were given quite the treat in the work the central trio provided with their performances. With Joaquin Phoenix coming fresh off of his Academy Award-winning role in Joker, he takes on a much softer part and with it does a superior job. What he evokes through this performance just grabs the soul and builds a level of empathy being the clown prince of crime could never achieve. However, the two scene-stealers proved to be Gaby Hoffman and Woody Norman. Hoffman gets the least amount of screentime but still manages to leave an incredible impact through her calls and check-ins. Handling the burden of motherhood from afar while dealing with her own stress comes across seamlessly for Hoffman in this feature, which made every time she called to check in a highlight. Then, of course, you have the youngster Woody Norman who puts on a show as a child actor. Not only delivering the Mike Mills dialogue as a professional but also doing this with his childlike ways to demonstrate what a genuinely intriguing character Jesse proves to be.
Genuinely moving and ultimately feeling like such a warm hug, C’mon C’mon does everything just about right in its execution. It struggles in moments from the pacing but it manages to tell such an affecting story along with giving us older individuals some hope for what the future generations will accomplish once they receive all of the power. Life-affirming and deftly-worded.