Mike Mills finds a way to deliver two films in one with his newest drama, C’mon C’mon, switching between family and documentary.
This is one of those films where it’s a mix of two different films. Writer-director Mike Mills finds a way to weave the stories together. It’s a case where there are two solid films in one. Part of me, however, would like to see more in terms of the documentary side where radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is asking children and young adults about the future. The film completed principal photography before the pandemic. One cannot help but think how substantially different that the script would be if produced during the pandemic. Johnny and his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), travel to New York while Johnny’s estranged sister and Jesse’s mom, Viv (Gaby Hoffman), is taking care of her estranged husband, Paul (Scoot Mcnairy). The film finds Johnny–and sometimes Jesse– in a few different cities.
Johnny has never been a parent. It’s already been a while since he last saw his sister and nephew in person when he rushes from Detroit to Los Angeles. In following Johnny and Jesse around, Mills goes for a mix of emotions and humor. This film has no right to be this funny. I have to admit that I went into the film without watching the trailer. I left the theater surprised by how much I found myself laughing. There are no shortage of laughs, let me tell you.
The documentary work could easily be its own film. Part of the focus may be on Johnny and Jesse but Johnny is also a radio journalist. I would love to see more of the interviews. Perhaps bonus features when the film arrives on Blu-ray? We’ll see. Unfortunately, one of the New Orleans interview subjects, 9-year-old Devante Bryant, was tragically shot and killed in summer 2020. C’mon C’mon is dedicated in his memory.
Mills and cinematographer Robbie Ryan go for classic black & white photography. Did Roma start a trend because this is becoming more frequent if you include To the Stars, Passing, Belfast, and of course, the Oscar-winning Parasite. The photography is so vividly beautiful. After Beginners and 20th Century Women, Mills steps away from stories inspired by his parents. In this film, he draws on his own experiences of fathering a child by telling the story of an adult-child relationship. Johnny’s radio series even draws on Mills’ own documentary work. The difference being that Mills focused in on children in Silicon Valley. All in all, Johnny is not a complete carbon copy of Mike Mills but hey, you have to start somewhere when writing a screenplay.
Through the connection between Johnny and Jesse, C’mon C’mon is a story about generations and what the future may hold. We don’t know what the future may be but we do know that adults have a responsibility to make the future better for children. This has never been more true than what we’re seeing today especially with the climate crisis. It’s no surprise that a city like New Orleans is included. Along with New York and the non-pictured Miami, New Orleans is at the forefront of the climate crisis. All you have to do is take a look during hurricane season and see the city get impacted every year. But really, this speaks to the children and their worries about the future. Will the future be positive or negative?
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Mike Mills
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot Mcnairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, and Woody Norman