UPDATE: C’mon C’mon will be streaming as a rental December 23
Writer- director Mike Mills’ latest film C’mon C’mon is a truly splendid and deeply intimate coming-of-age not just for the boy Jessie (Woody Norman) but also for the man, Johnny (played by Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix). This is Mills’ third study on family (following Beginners and 20th Century Women). Mills drew inspiration for the parent/child relationships on his own experience of parenthood, according to a recent Deadline Hollywood interview. The A24 movie debuted at the Telluride Film Fest in September and was released theatrically November 19 in the U.S. and December 3 in the U.K.
The story revolves around single, road weary radio journalist Johnny taking care of his overactive 8-year-old nephew Jessie while his sister Viv (Gabby Hoffman) helps her severely bipolar husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) settle into a new job. The two-day babysitting job turns into a much longer stint as Paul goes awol and has to be hospitalized. As it happens, Johnny is on a multi-city tour interviewing kids on their world view. Jessie is happy to join Johnny on the road even though it puts a huge strain on otherwise childless, emotionally reticent Johnny. What transpires is a dramatic and often comic look at the parent child dynamic, in which the roles are frequently reversed.
The radio interviews bookend the piece and interlace with various long-distance phone calls, talks between the boy and his uncle and a nightly reading of excerpts from The Wizard of Oz (which mirrors the journey they’re all on). The black and white images comment on and support the content with varying degrees of shadow and light, softness and contrast. The contained and sometimes chaotic cityscapes likewise alternate with pastoral walks in the park or a play day at the beach.
The soundtrack includes many recognizable pop and show tunes and fits seamlessly together with the storyline and lush, understated score composed by guitarist and American expatriate Bryce Dessner and his twin brother Aaron. They both write for their rock band The National and Bryce is well known in Europe and America amongst the classical and chamber music crowd. His Murder Ballades (from the album Filament, on which he also performs) won the Grammy in 2016 for best small ensemble performance.
C’mon C,mon’s marriage of complex, overlapping dialogue, photojournalistic black and white images and Dessner’s intimate string music creates a cinematic tone poem to powerful emotional affect. Some scenes are just plain jaw-dropping for the relational insight they voice but in real life are seldom expressed. The only immediate downside is that the film comes to an end.
In this reviewers’ opinion, C’mon places the writer-director firmly in the distinguished auteur category, that small group of filmmakers whose style is singularly unique. It may well earn him the Academy Award for best original screenplay this year and maybe even win best all around independent picture of the year. It’s that good.