By Lindsay Wynne
Shot in black and white and somewhat in the style of cinéma vérité, C’mon C’mon effortlessly weaves fiction and nonfiction storytelling in its analysis of the human condition. At its heart, the film is about relating to one another—a sad and delightful exploration of family, fear, and hope.
In semi-documentary fashion, the film chronicles several weeks in the life of radio journalist Johnny, as he navigates his complicated relationship with his sister, Viv, and her nine-year-old son, Jesse. In his current assignment, Johnny interviews children about what they think of life and the future, as well as their fears and desires. When he agrees to watch Jesse during a few weeks of family turmoil, his life becomes one, long interview—sometimes as the interviewer and other times, the interviewee. The child perspective is given as much weight as that of adults, at times showing that kids often know much more than we do. It seems we adults have a lot to learn from our pint-sized counterparts.
The film is a cinematic onion—the skin of it seemingly obvious in its exploration of family struggles, but the layers underneath subtlety showing the innermost truths about human connection and understanding. Writer and Director, Mike Mills, skillfully connects this theme to the story by weaving in literary examples from books read by the characters throughout the film. This blend of fiction and nonfiction is no accident—it’s a statement about the realities and fantasies that make up life, and the ways in which we all seek answers when we have nothing much to go on.
Despite it’s critical appeal, the film was not nominated for an Oscar in any category, and while some would call this a snub, it’s more of a gross oversight. The screenplay, directing, cinematography and acting have been recognized by BAFTA, the Film Independent Spirit Awards and countless other festivals and film associations. The cinematography especially is so flawless that you sometimes miss what is being said-your attention consumed instead by the beauty of a shot and its composition. Sometimes muted, other times electric, Director of Photography, Robbie Ryan, expertly delivers Mills’ vision of life as what we read between the lines—and somewhat ironically, what is not simply black and white.
The acting is superb. As Johnny, Joaquin Phoenix gives a warm, vulnerable performance rarely seen in his filmography. Gaby Hoffman, while cast in yet another somewhat eccentric character role, tones down her performance to make Viv more accessible—someone we feel genuine empathy and respect for. Eleven-year-old Woody Norman portrays Jesse as curious and peculiar, cautious and introspective. All of the performances are honest, natural, and again, subtlety layered to give characters depth and authenticity.
While some critics have eluded to a light plot, this film has heart. It doesn’t preach any specific ideas about how families should work or what the true meaning of life is. It simply asks each of us, “What do you feel?” And then begs for us all to stop and simply listen to the response.
Friday November 19 2021