Indie director Mike Mills (“Beginners”) scores a warm feel-good hit with “C’mon C’mon.” The engaging and thoughtful film vibrates with quiet energy and it is a very real portrait of a friendship.
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a befuddled and bohemian documentary filmmaker. He is driven by his work. One day he gets a call from his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) who asks him to stay with her young son Jesse (Woody Norman) because the father (Scoot McNairy) needs medical attention and support.
Johnny doesn’t know what to say. Due to being estranged, he has not met Jesse. Furthermore, he doesn’t know the first thing about parenting. Johnny has had a fear of commitment. By default, it seems, he reluctantly agrees.
Right away, Jesse is nonplussed. If he speaks to his uncle at all, the boy addresses him in declarative and harsh tones, not caring if he hurts his uncle. On outings, Jesse disappears for several minutes, then laughs at Johnny’s distress. The boy likes to pretend that he’s an orphan with his mother and father long dead.
The uncle is floored by this and at his wit’s end. Just when Johnny is about to give up, a rapport develops.
This film has a quirky intimate feeling that is often within the films of Jim Jarmusch. Jesse is revealed not to be a troubled off-center boy at all, but he is emotional, restless, hyper-active curious, endearing and affectionate.
In many ways the film is a kind of travelogue, highlighting Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans, but instead of treating its situations in a cartoon manner, there is a progression here that is full of subtlety and delicate detail. This is nothing less than an anatomy of a friendship, full of push and pull, joy and fear.
The normally over the top Phoenix reins himself in and emphasizes softness instead of bombast, highlighting an interior man, blighted by many disappointments, who decides to reach out to his nephew who rolls around like a gyroscope, asking question after question, nonstop. A black and white New York City (once the territory of Woody Allen) is now an analysis of life between a nephew and his uncle, one of care, worry, revelry and pondering.
The film is punctuated by opinions of children asked about global anxieties and conditions. While at first seeming to give comic relief, these moments also illustrate the uncertainties of Jesse’s future and not only the fragility of childhood but innocence and what it means to be fearful.
“C’mon C’mon” is a sweet, impactful, and above all earnest, road movie” of emotions.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org