“C’mon C’mon” (A24) is a stunning exposition of the intimate and detailed moments we have with each other – whether they are utterances of deep truth or a casual glance that communicates volumes. Johnny, (Joaquin Phoenix), is a traveling radio journalist reconnecting with his estranged family. He begins to mend this relationship while caring for his nephew, a talkative and curiously bright boy named Jesse (newcomer Woody Norman) while his sister (Gaby Hoffmman) takes care of Jesse’s mentally unstable father (Scoot McNairy).
In the film, Johnny is working on a project where he travels around the country interviewing curious youth, enlisting Jesse’s help on the journey and teaching him how to record the world around him. The chemistry between the characters is so striking that the acting feels incredibly real and intuitive. To lend itself to this quality, all the interviews that Joaquin Phoenix conducted were unscripted and spontaneous. He asks kids that are growing up in Detroit, New York and New Orleans questions like “Where do you think we go when we die? Are you lonely? What is something you think is beautiful? What do you think your parents will be like as you grow up?”, questions we all ask ourselves but rarely seek answers to. Their answers are gorgeously honest, thought provoking and at times heart-wrenching. Throughout the film, director Mike Mills cultivates all of these intertwining relationships in astonishingly intimate moments. Shooting in black and white and with an entirely classical score, the film creates a deep sense of nostalgia and timelessness and asks us to tap into our own stories.
In cultivating this intimacy, “C’mon C’mon” first draws from the “bigger picture”, much like Johnny asks “the bigger questions” in his interviews. It’s almost as if the movie functions like the lens of a camera, zooming in and out on the lives we lead. Many scenes begin with sprawling cityscapes, an image of overwhelming immensity. But Mills paints a silence over that image, presenting it with minimal sound. It’s almost like descending on a city in an airplane. Once in the heart of the city, we are invited to experience a closer look at the truly beautiful details of stories unheard.
As we experience this closer look, us viewers are gently required to lean in and really listen. At many points in the film, the noise of New York City or the sound of waves crashing on the shore in Los Angeles is the same level as the dialogue. It was a brilliant move, letting the city or the waves or the sound of a parade in New Orleans speak for itself. The background becomes its own music, its own narrator. A whimsical trumpet over a conversation between Johnny and his sister becomes all that more meaningful, a fight between Jesse and Johnny becomes jolting and visceral over the screeching sounds of the city. We feel what they feel. What the film accomplishes is a true unity between audience and character.
Lastly, the recurring theme of “Clair De Lune”, performed by the San Francisco Saxophone Quartet, almost made me weep. The beautiful fragility of that piece was the perfect accompaniment to every scene that it played along to. Maybe it is these intense times we live in or the fact that I hadn’t been to a film since the pandemic, or that I saw it alone and content, but this film struck a chord in me, and I hope it does for you as well.
“C’mon C’mon” is currently showing in theaters and will be available to rent on all streaming services starting Dec 23.