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6 Degrees Entertainment

Movie Reviews
C’Mon C’Mon
(Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, et al / R / 1hr 49m / A24)

Summary: A radio journalist sets out on a journey of discovery about how kids today think, but ends up on an equal journey of self-discovery when he has to look after his nine-year-old nephew.

Verdict: When critics started praising Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in C’Mon C’Mon as incredibly warm and gentle, I was immediately intrigued, especially since I’d only seen Phoenix in grittier roles, most recently, Joker.

They were correct.

A comparatively kinder, gentler Phoenix is Johnny, a journalist on a mission to interview kids across the country to see what the present and future look like through their eyes. The assignment hits particularly close to home when he is conscripted to look after his precocious nephew, Jesse (an exceptional Woody Norman), while Jesse’s mom deals with some family stuff.

The plot hook is that Johnny knows nothing about raising children and that he soon finds out, and that premise would seem over-done but for the exceptional chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman. Phoenix’s Johnny is aloof and unmoored and trying so hard while Norman’s Jesse is articulate and mischievous.

They get on each other’s nerves, and often. But they also care deeply for one another, working out their fledgling relationship through Jesse’s role-playing as an orphan, the use of Johnny’s tape recorder, and semi-serious conversations that often dissolve into giggles and smiles.

Writer-Director Mike Mills uses real footage of real children being interviewed from Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and New Orleans, and they make great points about relationships with parents, cities, each other, and planet Earth, and it all serves as a great backdrop for watching Johnny and Jesse’s adventure together unfold.

And if the naturally-delivered dialogue — sometimes goofy (“blah blah blah”), sometimes serious (“why don’t you and mom act like brother and sister?”) — doesn’t wholly establish the metamorphosis of Johnny and Jesse’s relationship, Mills’ direction and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography certainly helps to drive it home.

As the duo explore LA, New York, and New Orleans, the shots are wide as Jesse takes in the world around him, and tight as the two read books together at night or talk or bicker. The choice to shoot the film in black and white continues to add to the emotional weight of a story that is ultimately about people finding their way in the world.

While Joaquin Phoenix is the marquee name, Woody Norman is C’Mon C’Mon’s real standout, perfectly encapsulating the sort of inquisitive kid who prefers the company of adults, who understands (or seems to) so much about everyone else’s feelings but is so out of touch with their own.

But perhaps the most impressive element of Norman’s performance is that he delivers all of it in a flawless American accent. It wasn’t until a behind-the-scenes video on Facebook that I learned he is actually English. Amazing.

Elsewhere, Gaby Hoffman is perfect as Viv, Johnny’s sister, who struggles to navigate her relationship with not only her brother (it’s complicated) and her son, but with her estranged husband (an effective, if not under-utilized Scoot McNairy). A solid eighty percent of her performance is brief cutaways during Johnny’s phone calls to check in, and that’s a shame.

C’Mon C’Mon is a story that hinges on optimism, on the hope that maybe tomorrow will be better than today, that maybe you’ll finally figure out how life works. Or at least the hope that if you don’t, you’ll be able to enjoy the ride.

Against society’s current backdrop, that sort of message is almost achingly poignant, making C’Mon C’Mon without question the feel-good flick the world needs right now.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte