The beautifully perceptive “C’mon C’mon,” from writer / director Mike Mills, is an intimate story about the connections between adults and children. It’s moving and touching, but equally tedious and irritating.
Documentary journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) travels around the country, interviewing kids about their perspectives on the world. After the end of his own failed relationship, Johnny is alone. He never had children of his own and knows nothing about being a parent, but when his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) needs help, Johnny agrees to let his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) temporarily come live with him in New York City. Becoming a guardian and spending time with the young boy transforms his outlook on life, as the two learn the ability to communicate with and respect each other.
This is so much more than “just another movie” where a kid and an adult teach each other life lessons, learning how to see each other but also their true selves. The poignant screenplay is filled with eloquent, knowing writing, and the finished product is an intensely emotional and intimate story about the need for connection, support, and love. There’s an empathy that packs a wallop, especially in the non-actor interviews with real kids that give the film a partial documentary feel. Mills incorporates poignant passages from literature into his script, which highlights his story’s themes in an emotionally intimate, meaningful way.
Phoenix and Norman are a great onscreen duo, their chemistry natural and unforced. There’s a subtlety to Phoenix’s leading man performance that is tender and moving, and Norman provides a balance that blends irrational fears and childlike wonder with the wisdom of an old soul. As a little kid facing some very tough adult problems (including the stress of having a bipolar, absent dad), the performances perfectly convey the importance of emotional understanding between children and adults.
Robbie Ryan‘s stunning black and white cinematography, which would feel like an overused gimmick in many films, is anything but. It fits the story being told and is an important piece of the overall tone and feel. I firmly believe this project would not have worked as well if it had been shot in color.
A common complaint with small scale, talky indies, “C’mon C’mon” is a little slow moving. It may prove challenging for some audiences, but the film is an empathetic, perceptive look at bridging the gap between the older and younger generations.