C’mon C’mon Review

Flying the nest and seeing a new, experienced field of culture must be such a treat for Jesse (Woody Norman) and radio journalist uncle, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) as they embark on a cross-country trip. Mike Mills’ new feature film depends more on the reasons for the road trip than it does on the bond between an uncle and nephew. But that bond is an exceptional one. The determination of the two makes for an intoxicating display and they flourish under Mills. Advice for the future rejected by someone yet to live it. It is a nice enough message and demonstrated well by the cast at hand, but it is a first for Mills in that his latest feature feels broad and shallow, especially during those emotionally retentive moments.  

What C’mon C’mon lacks in substance, it makes up for in performance and message. Phoenix’s starring role is superb but Mills’ feature suffers from the riskless endeavour of black and white cinematography that has seen such a boom in the arthouse drama genre. No doubt Mills’ work looks beautiful, but the meaning behind it is unknowable. But seeing a relatively interesting depiction of journalism and having Phoenix create that is enchanting and entertaining. There is security and safety throughout C’mon C’mon, but it is not without its bold and inspired challenges. A great deal of focus is needed on Phoenix to tie it all together, that much is showcased well. It is his actions and reactions in a symphony of distress that gives his character depth and motivation. Mills presents that, as ever, with great interest and tact.  

That sacrifice of substance leads to a natural, convincing dynamic between Phoenix and Norman. The two are impressive, Norman particularly. His abilities steal a scene or two from under Phoenix. It is always encouraging to see a young actor hit the ground running with a performance up to the task of competing with some of the best working performers. That lack of story is a niggling issue though. It comes back to haunt the later moments of C’mon C’mon, which tries to rely on a fear of grieving and following in the footsteps of bad role models. That infliction is never quite explored effectively enough. Johnny and Paul (Scoot McNairy) are both flawed individuals, yet the turn of fear and return to the new equilibrium is too short a gap. C’mon C’mon is subtle with its underlining fear, but when it explodes into that inevitable climax, it is resolved all too quickly and calmly. Acceptance of that is just as important as the characters’ acceptance of unchangeable problems.  

Impossible to hate, but difficult to love too. C’mon C’mon is a stellar bit of commonplace creativity. It knocks out all the tropes of the arthouse genre piece but does so with great skill and a strong cast. Pushing the boundary is difficult, especially when the lack of a determined story cannot push for anything new or exciting. Exploring the unknown mind and the innocence of those who have yet to experience the horrors of life, C’mon C’mon at least engages with that breach of sanity. It bridges the gap between free-living and harsh realities with great tact and strength, but it is firm in its lack of variety. There is little beyond the simple flourishes. The static camera, the simple choreography. That stripped-back approach may be the norm, but it does not make it a style that can push the genre any further.  

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