“Have you ever thought about the future? Err yeah, but whatever you plan on happening never happens.”
One of the things that interest me about art is not always the finished article, whether that be a still image, a film, a piece of music or something else, but the process of making that work of art. The journey the creator goes through can be just as appealing, if not more so, than the finalised artwork because of the discoveries made during the creative process. Even when I’m writing, sometimes I become aware it can be more beneficial to become invested in what I learn from the act of writing rather than what I have written. In Mike Mills‘ C’mon C’mon, the audience witnesses Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a radio journalist who takes care of his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), while producing a project and how Jesse affects the course of this, taking their lives in an unperceived direction.
The film opens with Johnny interviewing different children, asking them about their thoughts on the future. The audience sees this throughout C’mon C’mon wherever he travels. While in Detroit, Johnny calls his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman), who he has not spoken to since their mother died a year ago. She asks Johnny to come to Los Angeles to look after her son Jesse while she travels to Oakland. As Johnny reconnects with his nephew and Jesse becomes involved with his work, Johnny learns about relationships, emotional development and parenting.
Interestingly, this is the first feature film Phoenix has appeared in since becoming a father. It seems perhaps part of the reason for choosing this role was to go on a journey of self-discovery and expound on what it means to become a parent. Johnny and his sister have frequent discussions about how she tries to oversee her son and manage his emotions. The audience also sees a vulnerability from Johnny that perhaps we have not seen from Phoenix before, that, for the most part, allows him to be open with Jesse. It is a type of vulnerability that people might not expect from a father figure and his performance challenges the idea of men always needing to appear tough and strong. Phoenix is excellent, but Norman equally matches him, and his precocious personality helps create chemistry between them that seem to coerce organic reactions and emotions from each other.
The presentation of C’mon C’mon is also alluring. The monochrome black and white elevate the beautifully composed cinematography, which appears to pay reference to mumblecore, with which Phoenix is ironically associated. As, so often with the choice to forego colour, it makes the film feel timeless, which works well when presenting the film’s themes that will likely prompt thought and questions.
Initially, I wondered if I would be captivated by C’mon C’mon. However, the film quickly gains your interest with its intriguing subject matter, delightful performances, and gorgeous appearance. It is pleasing to see Phoenix working in this kind of independent film again, and it is a marvellous gem well worth seeing.
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