C'mon C'mon

Joaquin Phoenix proves why he’s one of the best actors of his generation in C’mon C’mon

“It’s a movie that demonstrates how well intimate dramas work on the big screen in an era when films push for spectacle rather than emotion.”

In C’mon C’mon, Joaquin Phoenix plays a documentarian, Johnny, working on a new project about the future. He travels to different American cities with his crew conducting interviews with children, and calls his estranged sister Viv one lonely night. She’s leaving to take care of her husband, and Johnny offers to watch his nephew, Jesse. He travels to Oakland and settles in their home. Uncle and nephew bond, they argue, they play. Johnny will take his nephew to New York City and then New Orleans. It’s a film without major incidents, though the emotions and relationship at play could not be more significant. 

C’mon C’mon adopts a free-flowing structure. While the narrative is deceptively simple, it is often interrupted by flashbacks, interviews and even quotes. Filtered through Johnny, a man attempting to reconcile a complicated past with anxieties about an uncertain future, we reflect on the fundamental questions of day-to-day life. What does it mean to be a member of a family? What is love? How do we live in a world that often seems hopeless?

c'mon c'mon woody norman joaquin phoenix
C’mon C’mon starring Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman

As a character, Johnny likes to listen. He has a talent for interviewing and putting people at ease, but this skill also causes him anguish. Early on in the film, we understand through conversations with his sister that Johnny does everything possible to make people feel at ease. Johnny doesn’t like conflict or difficult conversations, and he represses his emotions: consciously or not, he expects those around him to as well. That’s why, when confronted with the stark honesty and eccentricity of his nephew, he begins to unravel. Caught in a difficult family situation, Jesse wants attention, and he refuses to be “normal.” He forces Johnny out of his fog. In quoting an essay by documentarian Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson and Dick Johnson Is Dead), Johnny takes an interest in others to avoid living his own life. Watching Jesse forces him out of that mindset.

Phoenix demonstrates his talents as one of his generation’s greatest actors. He brings reserved naturalism to the role. We understand his charm and his outspokenness while also feeling the anxiety peeling below the surface. The profundity of his loneliness and his inability to articulate it drive the narrative in the first place. Alone in a hotel room in Detroit, he makes a call he’s been avoiding, if only because the awkward tension between him and his sister is at least a distraction from his isolation. 

The movie might sound grim, but it is often funny and vibrant. The presence of children, even those in spiritual pain, lends the film an undeniable sense of adventure and hope. It straightforwardly underlines the egoism of certain forms of interiority. Johnny, forced to care for another person, has to abandon his self-pitying stupor. He has to live in the present, something he hasn’t done in a long time, a state of being that awakens both hope and regret. 

The documentary interviews emphasize this point by underlining the awareness and resilience of children, drawing us back into our childhoods. The children answer generalized questions about the future, but also stranger things like, “If your parents were children, what would you teach them?” The care and attention given to their answers reflect on the audience and their relationships as well. As the film posits, the care and interest with which documentarians engage with their subjects is a tremendous responsibility. It gives people the opportunity to feel their voice matters and to reflect on questions they might never have considered before. 

C'mon C'mon starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gaby Hoffman
C’mon C’mon starring Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman

The film’s cinematography, which showcases various American cities, highlights the singular beauty of communal and shared environments and their bleakness. Another visual motif has the camera peering in windows and reflections of overgrown vegetation literally overcome characters. These moments where characters are inside and outside simultaneously blur the lines between our exterior and interior lives. 

C’mon C’mon stands out as a film of small gestures and heightened emotions about the tribulations of growing older and imagining the future. It’s heartfelt without being sentimental, reflecting on fundamental and timeless questions of being. Aside from Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann as his sister Viv and Woody Norman as his nephew Jesse give nuanced and compelling performances. It’s also a movie that demonstrates how well intimate dramas work on the big screen in an era when films push for spectacle rather than emotion. Mike Mills has created a beautiful film that is introspective without being pretentious. This movie posits that not being fine is a totally reasonable response to being alive. 

C’mon C’mon directed by Mike Mills

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