A heartwarming, life-affirming story led by fantastic chemistry from the lead actors.
Following on from his Oscar winning take on the Joker in 2019, widely acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix ditches the psychotic theatrics for a more grounded, realistic character. That character being Johnny, a radio journalist who is travelling across the United States, interviewing children about their lives and what they think the future will hold in the drama film, C’mon C’mon.
Written and directed by Mike Mills (20th Century Women), this poignant and quiet film follows Johnny on his cross-country travels when he is asked by his recently estranged sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffman, Wild) to look after her nine-year-old son, his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman) while she travels to Oakland to care for her mentally ill husband, Paul (Scoot McNairy, Argo). Experiencing difficulties with Paul, Viv’s trip is unexpectedly extended, leaving Jesse to join Johnny on his work trip, and the two begin to forge a bond, despite their clashing personalities.
Presented in black-and-white, Mills’ direction really forces the attention of the audience to be focused on the naturalistic dialogue of the film. The conversations that each character have with each other are integral to their backstories and growth throughout the film yet feel truly authentic and unique.
C’mon C’mon deals with heartbreaking and heavy themes, including mental illness and family relationships, but through the innocent worldview of children. Hearing the fascinating outlook on life and existence these children have, whether it’s through the recordings Johnny is making, or the conversations with Jesse, emotionally strikes a nerve where it feels like everything in life should be as simple as these kids believe life could be. Hearing Jesse and the interviewed children excited, and at the same time, concerned about their futures will bring as many smiles as it does tears.
The emotional core of the script revolves around Johnny and Jesse and their bond as it grows over the course of the film. The majority of C’mon C’mon sees these characters attempt to understand each other in a way you would already expect family members to, which creates a wonderfully emotional tone in scenes that are as simple as watching them both talk to each other over dinner. Jesse, as many kids his age would be, is incredibly inquisitive, and while at first this comes across as a thorn in Johnny’s side, they’re relationship soon allows the emotional foundations to be laid and the trust shared between the two leads to one of the most incredibly moving final 15 minutes seen in a long time.
And while Mills’ script takes the forefront with the drama (and the frequent laughs that occur), his cinematography wonderfully captures so many cultures and cities on Johnny and Jesse’s journey. Each city feels vibrant, despite the lack of colour on screen. That vibrancy is captured in stunning city-scape shots, right down to the people on the streets just simply living their unique lives.
But, C’mon C’mon is as captivating as it is due to the phenomenal chemistry between Phoenix and Norman. In his first feature film, the energetic and at times youthfully obnoxious performance from Woody Norman as Jesse will surely be remembered as the launching pad for a long career. Norman’s ability to, in an acting sense, keep up with a legend like Phoenix will leave you in awe after the credits have rolled. Conversations feel so incredibly natural between these two actors, and never in a ‘fabricated’, child actor sense. And when the film begins to hit its emotional climax, the convincing nature of Norman’s acting will genuinely move you inside.
Phoenix once again showcases that he is one of the best actors working today. Even at his most subdued, there is incredible amounts of passion and pain within the eyes and mannerism of Johnny. An emotionally closed off character can be hard to read on film, but Phoenix manages to let the audience in, while keeping characters of the film at bay. It’s a tough balance to maintain as actor, and Phoenix pulls it off. Unfortunately, his performance is one that is not being discussed enough in the current awards race.
On a personal level, C’mon C’mon deals with themes, events and relationships that I have experienced in my own life. I haven’t been on a cross-country journey with Joaquin yet, but there is hope. In seriousness, Mills handles these incredibly hard-to-discuss themes in such an understanding and touching way. No one in this film is “a bad person”, but the film strongly identifies that bad things can happen to people, and the heartache it can cause will also lead to beautiful, human moments. It’s a script that’s so well written, captured on film in a unique way, and portrayed by actors who feel authentic and real.
C’mon C’mon is a truly life-affirming story that is filled to the brim with equal amount of heart-warmth and heartbreak. It’s a grounded and human story, led by the incredibly chemistry of it’s lead actors. C’mon C’mon will undoubtedly move you.
Thank you Dendy Cinemas for giving me the chance to check out the film. Head to www.dendy.com.au to check out session times near you when the film releases on February 17.
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