C’mon, C’mon – Film Review
by Frank L
Director – Mike Mills
Writer – Mike Mills
Stars – Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a radio journalist. He arrives to help his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) with her son Jesse (Woody Norman). Viv’s estranged partner is suffering a mental breakdown and she needs to help him organise his life. Johnny has not been that close to Viv but they remain brother and sister. Johnny has no experience of looking after a child, particularly one as all-knowing as Jesse is. The fractured nature of the relationships of these characters is underlined by the fact that the action takes place in four major American cities, with Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans all featuring.
The main import of the film is the interaction of Johnny and Jesse. Johnny is more of a friend to Jesse than a father even though he is in loco parentis to him. Johnny’s inexperience at being a guardian is emphasised when Jesse disappears in a small supermarket. Johnny’s reaction is one of blind panic.
Phoenix gives a relaxed performance in the role of Uncle Johnny. He portrays for the most part a calm soul and treats his nephew Jesse in many respects as an equal. The more powerful character is Jesse. He sets the tone of their conversations and their happenings. He has opinions and is of an enquiring frame of mind. He does not have any inhibitions in expressing his opinions or putting his enquiries into words. Woody Norman’s performance is a tour de force. He is on screen for a considerable portion of the film and it is worth remembering that he was only nine years old when the film was shot.
The film is shot in black and white which gives it a documentary feel. It also cloaks the film in an aura of nostalgia. It awakens childhood memories or questions. Was I like that? But at another level, it shows a fractured society starkly where husband and wife, brother and sister, child and both parents are to varying degrees separated, both physically (in different cities) and mentally. While the film has many touching moments, the overall world it depicts is unsettling but in that, it may be expressing a new reality where many children’s everyday existence is populated by distant relationships. It is an unusual movie and those who are parents may view it differently from those who are not.