C'MON C'MON is directed by Mike Mills. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, and Woody Norman.
Johnny is in the radio business, traveling to different cities to interview kids about their feelings on their lives, their nation, and their futures. He's been estranged from his sister ever since their mother passed away following a battle with an illness, but the two are reunited when Johnny comes out to see his sister in California, looking after her son Jesse while she deals with her husband requiring care for mental illness. Johnny struggles with Jesse at first, but slowly develops a bond with the child, even taking the boy back to New York with him as he works on additional radio interviews. But how will these family dynamics change over time, and will Jesse be able to readjust to life with his mother with the changes he's experiencing?
C'MON C'MON's opening scene is a bit misleading; when I first started watching the film I was beginning to wonder if this was a narrative film or a documentary regarding children's feelings regarding their lives and the modern world. But once the movie gets past that initial hiccup, it's a surprisingly effective character study showing how family dynamics can change over time despite turbulence and past struggles. The casting and chemistry between the actors, the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, and the drama that unfolds over the course of the film are all surprisingly strong. While I was a relative latecomer to see this one, it certainly won me over.
The performances in this film don't fail, and the casting is arguably the movie's greatest asset. Joaquin Phoenix is a fantastic actor who brings his A-game to every project, and this a much more grounded and personal film than some of the more iconic roles he's taken on over the past two decades, but this works to the movie's advantage, letting us see a different side of the actor. Woody Norman, who plays young Jesse, is arguably the movie's standout player, with his eccentric nature and the relationships he forges with nearly every other character in the film. The character is likely meant to be a special needs child of sorts, but the film (in my opinion, smartly) keeps this ambiguous, enabling us to focus on him as a character. I'd gladly see another movie with Norman reprising this role, which should go to show how lovable, entertaining, and vulnerable alike he is here.
The cinematography for C'MON C'MON is in black and white; it's great to see growing numbers of filmmakers going back to using this technique, as it's surprising how much it can change the atmosphere of a movie, and it definitely suits the mood of this one well. We've seen California and New York in countless films, perhaps more than any of the United States, and getting to at least see them in a different perspective and shooting style was one thing about this movie that attracted me. The film is a delight to look at thanks to this.
How authentic the movie feels is another fantastic asset. Family drama is relatable on many levels. We've all had those experiences where we're estranged from someone or have an uneasy relationship with them. The contrast between a mother juggling child-rearing duties with other familial problems versus the single working-class person with no spouse or children is another element that's not unfamiliar. Even though the scenery, careers, and locales may not be familiar to everyone who watches this movie, the familial drama most certainly will be, which is one of the many reasons the film hooked me. At the beginning of the movie, Johnny's job is simply getting kids' opinions on worldly issues. By the end of the movie, we know he'll look at it all from a different angle.
There are a handful of elements that fall slightly short, but fortunately these are few in number. The underdevelopment of Johnny's friends is perhaps the one major weakness in an otherwise stellar film; we know he confides in them to help with his son and that they're closer to him than most, but why? The slightly misleading opening scene also probably could've done with some changes; again I felt like I was about to sit down for a documentary rather than a narrative film. I'm happy to say, however, these are the only real shortcomings in a fantastic movie.
C'MON C'MON is a great movie that's worth your time. Dramatic, well-shot, and beautifully cast, it hits all the high notes with some of 2021's best on-screen performances. Don't pass this one by.