By: Jolie Featherstone
With C’mon C’mon, writer/director Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) continues to examine and affirm the vulnerable chambers of the heart and psyche that we so often fiercely guard from revealing to others. Reflective and poignant, his films are companions for the parts of us that we struggle to accept, particularly when it comes to reconciling individual experiences within the context of family.
C’mon C’mon brings a unique angle to the American road movie. Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a radio journalist, travels across the United States interviewing the youth of America on their experiences, hopes, and fears. When Johnny reconnects with his sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), he travels to California and is reunited with her and her young son. Their relationship tethered by a polite-but-careful camaraderie, the siblings slowly unwrap their lives to each other. When Viv is called away to care for a loved one in crisis, Johnny takes on caring for his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman). Soon, Johnny and Jesse embark on a country-wide journey that will both challenge and fulfill them.
C’mon C’mon is shot entirely in black-and-white. The film’s use of audio reinforces the elegant realism of the visuals. As Jesse learns the ropes of audio recording from his uncle, we are made privy to the crackling sounds of the cities through their perspectives.
Phoenix, as per usual, is seamless in his performance of Johnny – a long-time wanderer. Phoenix is one of those actors who can viscerally disappear into a role; the spirit in his eyes changes with each character. The chemistry between the three leads is honest and warm, particularly between Phoenix and Norman as uncle and nephew.
The film offers an honest portrayal of how mental illness can impact family dynamics; shifting intricate balances within the collective. In C’mon C’mon, Viv, a working Mom, grapples with the weight of being the primary carer for her young son and partner. The film does briefly make an explicit point about the inconceivable weight and responsibilities we as a society put on mothers, while also quietly showing us through glimpses into Viv’s private life. I feel that there is an opportunity for a companion film from Viv’s perspective that I’d be keen to see.
The film offers some brief peeks into Johnny and Viv’s past as they cared for their elderly mother; a significant knot in their relationship. We also hear of other incidents between the siblings that led to their relationship’s infrastructure of love and caution. The film intentionally didn’t dive too specifically into this history. However, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my intrigue to learn more.
C’mon C’mon is a heartfelt affirmation to anyone with young people in their life. C’mon C’mon reassures us that while we are all flawed, we also have deep reserves of grace within us. When we honour this grace, we hold each other up and we heal ourselves in the process.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles