Wednesday 22 June 2022

Movie Review: C'mon C'mon (2021)

An uncle-nephew drama, C'mon C'mon appears to have important things to say but never quite gets there.

Radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is on a cross-country assignment interviewing young teenagers about their thoughts on the future. After finishing a stint in Detroit, he travels to Los Angeles to visit his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) and her 9-year-old son Jesse (Woody Norman). Johnny and Viv are close but their relationship was tested during their mother's difficult final days a year earlier.

Now Viv needs to travel to Oakland support her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy), who is suffering from mental health issues. Johnny agrees to care for Jesse, who has peculiar habits and anxieties related to his father's condition. Uncle and nephew start to bond, and Jesse learns to use Johnny's sound recording equipment. When Viv's stay in Oakland is prolonged, Johnny takes Jesse to his next set of interviews in New York.

Written and directed by Mike Mills, C'mon C'mon looks gorgeous. Robbie Ryan's sharp black and white cinematography evokes a simpler era consistent with a child's perspective, and both the interiors and street-level exteriors glow with stark possibilities.

Unfortunately, the aesthetics are more engrossing than the content. A large chunk of the film is occupied by random young adolescents expressing their hopes for the future and advising adults on how to be better adults. Potentially interesting as discussion material for a junior college freshman class, here the snippets become cinematic dead space. Johnny's morose descriptive narration does not help.

Mills does better with young Jesse's quirky behaviour in the form of angled curiosity and signs of a troubled psyche stemming from a father's sickness and mother's stress. As he gets to know his uncle, Jesse enjoys interacting with an engaged and healthy surrogate father figure, and Johnny experiences joys and responsibilities he has otherwise missed out on. Warmth permeates their bonding process.

Increasingly missing his mother, Jesse starts to test boundaries, and in the absence of a committed and present parent to bounce off, his arc's possibilities are truncated. The ideas predictably dry up and the pacing slows to a crawl, Mills defaulting to the awful crutch scene of screaming-obscenities-in-the-wilderness as a clunky metaphor for emotional release. 

Fragments of more interesting adult issues do surface, including Johnny's regrets in life and the tension between him and Viv, but these are barely exploited. C'mon C'mon teases with possibilities, but chooses kidspeak instead.

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