There are some films that make you want to talk, and then there are some films that make you want to be around people with whom you can talk.
That is the type of film that Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” is—an introspective film about a man and his nephew that makes you want to connect, no matter what the connection is. With its black and white color scheme, moody glimpses of a typically showy Los Angeles, and a handful of characters who are just barely hanging on to a semblance of “fine,” the story takes you on a journey through the allure of introspection and vulnerability.
The story follows Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), whose seemingly perfect gig is traveling around the country, interviewing children for a radio program. The questions are tough, and the answers, important—and insightful, convincing Johnny that these kids are just like adults, when you boil it all down. But Johnny has two problems. One, he is lonely. He keeps holing up in hotels on the way to the next batch of interviews, clearly grasping at something that he can’t quite get a hold of. And, two, which he takes much longer to realize—Johnny doesn’t really know his subject. He has never actually experienced day-to-day interaction with a kid (or “young person” as he keeps referring to them during initial recordings).
When Johnny’s sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffman) asks him to take care of her son, Jesse (Woody Norman) while she helps Jesse’s father (Scoot McNairy) get his mental health back on track, Johnny jumps at the opportunity. Maybe he thinks it will be a change of pace; maybe he wants the company. And he knows kids—this will be a piece of cake. But as the days stretch and Viv keeps extending Johnny’s responsibilities, Johnny finds that Jesse is a lot more complex than he originally thought.
This isn’t a “Mr. Mom” scenario by any means. Johnny doesn’t struggle to keep up with Jesse’s demands physically but emotionally. He doesn’t understand why he likes pretending so much, and some of Jesse’s reactions seem to come from left field. And he especially doesn’t understand why Jesse keeps digging at Johnny’s past, trying to understand him. This creates a very thoughtful and, at times, tense environment that is beautifully explored by Phoenix and Norman.
If the black and white color scheme and slow, brooding music don’t immediately provide an acknowledgement of Johnny’s headspace, Mills does an artful job of revealing his discomfort bit by bit through various conversations throughout the film. As Jesse reveals himself to Johnny, he also slowly pulls Johnny’s story out of him.
There are a couple of moments early on that seem forced and expository, but as the film continues, expect to get lost in the tenderness of Johnny and Jesse’s relationship. And this review would be amiss if it didn’t mention the wonderfully candid relationship that Phoenix and Hoffman present as brother and sister in a broken but loving family.
“C’mon C’mon” comes to Midtown Cinema this December. Don’t miss this beautiful exploration of vulnerability.
Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
DECEMBER EVENTS AT MIDTOWN CINEMA
Friday, Dec. 3, 9:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Down in Front!
Comedy improv panel riffs on a Santa double feature
“Santa Claus” (1959)
Friday, Dec. 10, 8 p.m.
“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964)
Friday, Dec. 10, 9:30 p.m.
“Home Alone” (1990)
Sunday, Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg Movie Night
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
Friday, Dec. 17, 9:30 p.m.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
Saturday, Dec. 18, 11 a.m.
“White Christmas” (1954)
Sunday, Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Wednesday, Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 24, 7:30 p.m.
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