After winning an Oscar for his performance in the titular role Joker, Joaquin Phoenix takes a big jump to the other side of the acting spectrum into subtle territory in C’mon C’mon.
Of course, that does not make his performance any less impressive.
In the newest film by Mike Mills, Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist from New York. His recent project has been going to children, asking them their various views on life (kind of like the beginning of the impeccable Up documentaries). It also happens to be one year since the loss of his mother, a grief he had to share with his sister Viv (Gabby Hoffman).
Living in California, Viv is having her own problems, as she needs to spend extra attention towards her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) as he suffers from mental illness. Johnny agrees to take care of her young son Jesse (Woody Norman) as she is out helping her husband.
The film centers on these two, as the young Jesse takes a liking to the recording equipment his Uncle uses. Eventually, Johnny takes Jesse to New York to help finish his project, while constantly texting his sister for help in the process.
C’mon C’mon is one of many 2021 films that have been shot in black and white (others include Passing, Belfast, segments from The French Dispatch, and the upcoming The Tragedy of Macbeth). That is not at all a complaint at all. Indeed the film has moments of lively moments, but perhaps the color is drained out because we do know there is still something under the surface of Johnny and his nephew that they are having trouble sharing.
I mentioned how impressive a performance Phoenix gives, which should come as no surprise to virtually anyone: He is one of the best actors we have today. What is surprising (at least to me) was that he was not the most memorable thing on screen. That distinction goes to the relatively unknown Woody Norman as Jesse. His performance completely floored me.
When Norman (barely a pre-teen when filming) is on screen, it does not take long to realize he is more than just a cute face. His character indeed likes to be around adults (he loves conspiracy theories), but he also needs someone to rebound his emotions off of. Even an actor of Phoenix’s caliber seems to be struggling at times to keep up with this kid. There are moments he makes you feel like you are watching not a kid, but a person. It is the best performance by a kid I have seen since Jacob Tremblay in Room.
Parents, the film is rated R for some thematic material and swearing (the main culprit). If you have a teenager who does not mind films in B&W, they will be fine here.
The title of the film does not come up in the film until near the end. What it means I will not say, not only to not spoil it, but because I am still reflecting upon it myself. There is a point at the end when Jesse is told by Johnny he may forget the time he spent with his Uncle. That is not the case for anyone who views this film.
This is one of the year’s very best films.