I recently rented “C’mon! C’mon!” and streamed it at home. I missed it at the Chicago International Film Festival.
The film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the uncle of a 9-year-old boy named Jesse, was written and directed by Mike Mills, whose 2016 film “Twentieth Century Women” I admired greatly. That film, starred Annette Bening and was about the director’s relationship with his mother in Berkeley; this one is about his relationship with his 7-year-old son.
The lead role of Jesse, the young boy, is played by Woody Norman, who is one of several child actors who are doing really excellent onscreen work this year. Another was the young lead actor of “Belfast,” Jude Hill, who portrayed Henry Branagh as a child.
Gaby Hoffman plays Viv, Johnny’s (Joaquin Phoenix) sister, who is married to Paul (Scott McNairy). Paul is bi-polar and having another of his breakdowns, which means that Viv is hard-pressed to take care of the young boy and Johnny begins taking Jesse on a trip cross-country that includes a variety of cities, including Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans. The film is shot in black-and-white. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan has won accolades for his gritty portrait of those various distinctive cities. Ryan was Oscar-nominated for his work on “The Favourite” in 2019.
Johnny is a radio journalist and is journeying cross-country interviewing the youth of America. He is asking young people about what sort of future they see for themselves and for the world, in general. One young interview subject says, “For me, personally, I think things are going to get better because I have a lot of opportunities. For the overall world, I hope it gets better, but I fear it might not.”
Mills, along the way, cites an essay on why women are always expected to make everything all right, even in difficult times. He quotes from stories like “The Bipolar Bear Family” by Amanda Holloway. It’s a random assortment of observations, tied together by the road trip and the blossoming relationship between Joaquin Phoenix and his precocious nephew. It’s refreshing to have a movie that isn’t about Super-heroes rescuing the world with things blowing up in CGI.
Gaby Hoffman, now almost 40, began acting at the age of 4 to help her family pay the bills. She appeared in “Uncle Buck” when she was 7 years old and portrayed the young daughter of Kevin Costner in 1989’s “Field of Dreams.” Until the age of eleven, she and her family lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, a hotel famous for housing some of the biggest literary luminaries in the world, such as Arthur C. Clarke. (Arthur C. Clarke, the author of more than 100 books of science fiction and essays, said he and the director Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” during a stay at the hotel in the 1960s. The hotel is also said to be the inspiration for Chelsea Clinton’s first name.
There are many relatable moments in the film, especially those in the real world when Jesse gives his uncle the slip and frightens both of them. Young Jesse also reveals that his mother had an abortion in her wild youth, which surprises her brother, who had not known that fact.
The appearance of Joaquin Phoenix post-the-“Joker” as a much chubbier version of himself is, in and of itself, a shock. His character in this piece is so far removed from his last outing as to make him unrecognizable.
The film is dedicated to a 9-year-old boy interviewed on the cross-country recording tour who was accidentally shot and killed after the film wrapped.
Another nice tid-bit that we learn is that when writer Mike Mills was somewhat at sea over the script. his 7-year-old son gave him the advice, “Well, be funny, comma, when you can, period.” The line is in the film and portends a bright future for the son of Mike Mills, who. at a very young age, already knows enough about English grammar to properly punctuate that sentence.