Sitting in a darkened room with no distractions or interruptions, Joaquin Phoenix speaks his thoughts into a microphone like a poetic recital or a therapy session, where all judgement and prejudice is left at the door. In doing so he asks questions of himself, reflecting on his own personality and ability to handle certain circumstances as his own capabilities are put to the test with every passing day in his nephew’s company. These moments are a deep form of meditative reflection in themselves, yet still only embody minor scenes of contemplation within the grandeur of Mike Mill’s drama film C’mon C’mon, which on a larger scale is nothing short of a beautiful tapestry of exploration, relationships and understanding.
Johnny (Phoenix) is an audio producer who travels across the United States interviewing children from all backgrounds and upbringings, asking them what their painting of the future may look like. In contrast to these young, dreamy, inspirational subjects, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) is living in the now, as she struggles day to day to work, raise her son Jesse (Woody Nelson) and manage her disintegrating marriage with her paranoid and unwell husband, Paul (Scoot McNairy). When she must travel to Oakland to support him, Jesse is left under the watchful eye of Johnny, and together the two create an unbreakable bond.
Written and directed by Mills, the narrative structure doesn’t particularly go anywhere, but it does just enough, and that is all that is needed. Johnny and Viv’s journeys are simply surviving from day to day, but through supporting one another they begin to have a new appreciation of the world. The simple relatability of each character’s struggles hits home harder than one may expect thanks to the tone of the movie, with a rhythm and pacing that is brought to life by the cast.
Phoenix is, unsurprisingly, superb once again, this time portraying a more vulnerable character with a heartfelt innocence that synthesises flawlessly with the temperament of the story. Hoffmann is a triumph and Woody Norman is quite simply staggering in his performance, once again raising the question: where on earth does Hollywood manage to find these immensely talented pre-teen actors? What makes this film such a lovely spectacle is the amalgamation these three performances, combined with the thoughtful, emotive dialogue and the expressive black-and-white cinematography.
It’s innocent, it’s pure, it’s everything the viewer wants it to be. The powerful use of literature throughout C’mon C’mon injects a provocative and thoughtful elements, and the immense emphasis placed on feelings moves the audience in unanticipated ways. The musical elements of the film, along with the weight placed on audio and the simplicity of the world when all of the white noise is extracted, suggest that if we all just chose to live in the now, there would be hope for salvation (something a number of interviewees in the film convey in gloriously eloquent fashion). As points one is left wondering how emptiness can feel so heavy, but the answer is found by the time the end credits roll, in the eternal love and understanding that is supposed to fill it. Mills truly has made the most beautiful film of the year.
C’mon C’mon is released in select cinemas on 3rd December 2021.
Watch the trailer for C’mon C’mon here: