Joaquin Phoenix couldn't have chosen a performance more distant than his last to follow-up his Oscar-winning turn as the star of "Joker." In "C'mon C'mon" he listens, reacts and ultimately shows a more vulnerable side...where Joker demanded your eyes in every scene, his portrayal here is inverted. It's newcomer Woody Norman that steals the show, and Phoenix, melting away, is his perfect, giving screen-partner.
"C'mon C'mon" is the latest from writer/director Mike Mills ("20th Century Women," "Beginners"), and he presents us with a stripped-down story about family connection. Viv (Gaby Hoffman) has a bright yet challenging young boy, Jesse (Norman), and she asks her estranged brother Johnny (Phoenix) to watch over him for a while. Viv needs time to deal with her bipolar partner (Scoot McNairy) and simply cannot care for both simultaneously. Johnny, a public radio journalist who is currently traveling the states interviewing children about how they see the world and their own futures, takes his nephew with him, and everyone involved is about to go through some much-needed growth.
Jesse likes to role-play to cope with his life, sometimes pretending that he's an orphan on the run. Johnny, whom we can tell carries with him the weight of past regrets, is a listener now, but may not have always been. He just so happens to be acutely attuned to the needs of children due to his most current project, and Jesse is about to test him in ways he never could have anticipated.
Inter-cut throughout the film are snippets of interviews with real children, providing insight as to how the future generations are seeing the modern-day world. The film is shot in black-and-white, an unnecessary choice but another that lends itself to the director's minimalist approach. The chemistry between Norman and Phoenix powers the film, but there are some heartfelt, touching scenes as well between brother and sister. This is a film where the past is still on the minds of all involved, but who seem to all be willingly caught up in a jet-stream of forward progress.
It's hard to hear a clear message with so much noise out there, and "C'mon C'mon" finds itself tuning in to a crystal-clear frequency in hopes of reaching those that are open to receiving.
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy.
Written and Directed by Mike Mills ("20th Century Women," "Beginners").
"C'mon C'mon" is in theaters on Friday, December 3rd, 2021.
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