C’mon C’mon review – Joaquin Phoenix heartwarmer is suspiciously polished
Tackling weighty themes and shot in classy monochrome, this coming-of-ager oozes prestige. But is it as deep as it seems?
Robbie Ryan’s monochrome cinematography is lovely, though it makes every scene look like a picture from the same expensive coffee-table book
Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon is a swooningly photographed drama about a radio journalist and adorable guy in middle age called Johnny, played by Joaquin Phoenix – part of the great tradition of journalists in the movies in that his employer requires of him just one big apparently open-ended task. He and a colleague are travelling around the United States for what amounts to a substantial oral history project, interviewing high-school teenagers about what they think of their lives, their families, their communities and their futures (that beckoningly enigmatic future is what gives the film its title). Johnny is single, having just split with a long-term girlfriend: he is smart, funny, dishevelled and paunchy – and a good listener to the kids whose honesty and intelligence he admires.
But Johnny has a serious family problem: he has fallen out badly with his adored sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) and hasn’t spoken to her for a year, since the death of their mother; Viv is angry with him for being irresponsible and failing to do any of the emotional heavy-lifting. But now Viv needs him: her semi-estranged partner Paul (Scoot McNairy) is bipolar and having a very serious episode, and Viv has to get him into a facility. She needs someone to look after their precocious eight-year-old son Jesse, played by Woody Norman in a supernaturally heart-tugging performance.
So Johnny, the wacky cool uncle, offers to shoulder the burden of being a real adult for once and take Jesse to New York while he interviews another batch of high-schoolers; soon he realises what a challenge being a parent is. (There are two separate scenes where he loses Jesse in a crowd and quite quickly finds him again.) This will be maturing experience https://hookupdate.net/es/localsgowild-review/ for them both, and Johnny records reflective audio-diary entries with the same big fluffy microphone he uses for work. Occasionally, he reads aloud from classy books whose authors and titles are flashed up on screen in austere sans-serif capital letters.
C’mon C’mon is a well-made film with some nice exchanges between Johnny and Jesse, and between Johnny and the perennially exasperated Viv. But I found something a bit self-congratulatory here: these beautiful shots of Manhattan combined with Johnny’s quasi single-dad situation reminded me (not unpleasantly) of Woody Allen, dictating his novel over the strains of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The teens Johnny interviews are mostly real people talking about their real lives, and in many ways, these are best moments in the film – though there is something coercive about presenting these testimonies embedded in an elaborate emotional fiction. The film is subtly siphoning off these young people’s authenticity.
The performances are good, especially Hoffman, whose character is tested beyond endurance by the double-whammy of immaturity presented by Johnny and Jesse; Phoenix has sympathy and charm, and the camera indulges every move and gesture from the amazingly schooled Norman, though the comedy in their odd-couple relationship seems always to be heading for a hug rather than a laugh. It’s an impressively contrived film, almost a machine for winning awards, a monochrome reverie of midlife yearning.
But it may be even more of a risk with very natural child actors and their accomplished adult co-stars in beautiful black-and-white films in love with their own emotional literacy
C’mon C’mon screened at the New York film festival and is released on 19 November in the US and on 3 December in the UK.