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Joaquin Phoenix delivers a delicate performance in optimistic C'mon C'mon

C'mon c'mon is a gentle wander through the themes of childhood, parenthood, importance of family and the right way of expressing emotions

By Claire Meakins, Second Year, English Literature

C’mon C’mon is a film that, beneath its artsy exterior, could easily be described as a heart-warming ‘comfort movie’.

The film follows Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) a radio journalist who, due to a series of complex family issues, is tasked with looking after his eccentric young nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman). Johnny’s work forces the two of them to travel from state to state, interviewing children about their thoughts concerning the future. Perhaps predictably, it is a film concerned with both geographical and emotional journeys.

Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes/A2

C’mon C’mon also demonstrates Joaquin Phoenix’s sheer versatility as an actor. Given the huge success of Joker (2019), it could have been very easy for him to fall into the trap of typecasting, but he certainly avoids it in the role of Johnny who is a well-meaning and likeable character, far removed from the world of psychopaths and comic book villains.

Johnny is as uncertain as he is kind and this dynamic between wanting to do the right thing but being unsure how to do it is one that reoccurs throughout the film. This is acted to perfection by Phoenix and complimented well by Norman, who manages to capture the wackiness of the role without ever feeling clichéd. The relationship between the two is charmingly familiar and emotionally captivating.

Courtesy of IMDB

Although maybe the film will have more of an impact on older viewers (especially parents) who can relate more personally to some of Johnny’s struggles in caring for Jesse, it can definitely be enjoyed by audiences of any age and would make for a great conversation starting film to watch with parents or older relatives.

As writer and director, Mike Mills offers a fascinating and multi-faceted exploration of what it means to be a parent in the twenty-first century and, in particular, what it means to be the parent of a son. Both Jesse’s mother (Gaby Hoffman) and Johnny frequently push for Jesse to be more in touch with his emotions, yet they struggle to take their own advice. Johnny’s difficulties in answering some of Jesse’s more frank questions highlight this disconnect using an excellent blend of pathos and humour. The film is not afraid of dealing with darker themes, but they are handled with delicacy and a light comic touch ensuring that the film never veers too far off from the hopeful track it is set on.

Courtesy of A24 Films

The inclusion of interviews as a framing device also helps by allowing the audience respite from some of the tougher scenes. These interviews include authentic unscripted responses from a variety of American schoolchildren, whose generally optimistic tone aids in maintaining the film’s mood. Some of these interviews feel superfluous and repetitive, slowing the film down and making it feel longer than its actual runtime, but they are, all in all, a nice touch which creates a documentary feel to the film.

This feeling is amplified by stunning black and white shots of cityscapes, ensuring that C’mon C’mon always feels firmly grounded in its settings. In fact, the cinematography as a whole is incredible and the film often gives the (mildly pretentious) sense that it knows how good it is. Yet, it avoids ever feeling alienating with the down-to-earth characters drawing you back in from these artsy moments and reminding you that the film is concerned with humanity more than it is pretty cinematography.

C’mon C’mon would make for a great, if unconventional, Christmas watch for those who aren’t fans of the usual bright sparkle filled affairs but still want to feel slightly upbeat at this time of year. Incredible acting and cinematography make it a poignant film that you can’t help but smile along with.

Featured Image: Julieta Cervantes, A24 Films

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