C'Mon C'Mon is one of those rare movies where kids are actually presented as complex human beings with thoughts, and the trials of parenting are approached with a stark honesty that leads to one of the most honest and heartwarming movies you'll see all year.
Director: Mike Mills
Summary: A radio journalist embarks on a cross-country trip with his young nephew.
A24 is known for movies that tend to transcend genre, but they will always make a movie that feels honest to the person who is making it. There is little regard to broad mainstream appeal; if this is the movie the director or the writer wants to make, then this is the movie that A24 wants to make. NEON is much the same way, so the two studios consistently put out some of the best movies all year. Even when they miss, they are at least interesting. When it comes to being conventional [for A24], C'Mon C'Mon might be one of their more approachable films. The thing that really sets it apart from other films coming out this year about complex family dynamics and uncles in particular, like The Tender Bar, is the honesty.
As we often say here when we are talking about media geared toward children, children are not small, stupid adults. They have a complex and different way of thinking that is unique to children, and tapping into that when creating media for children is incredibly difficult. One could argue that what is even more difficult is presenting children on screen in an honest way for adults to consume. Often children in media for adults are very one-note, or they are simply there to serve some singular purpose, and that is it. There is little nuance; the kids are either perfect angels, or they are hellspawn, but C'Mon C'Mon does not subscribe to that newsletter. Jesse, played by the revelatory Woody Norman, is a complex human being from the moment we meet him.
He does things that confound the adults around him that only make sense in his own head and his mood swings and tantrums feel like something we have all witnessed from children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews. Jesse walks directly up to the line of what he can get away with and then sees how many times he can walk across it. He's annoying, he's adorable, you love him, and sometimes you hate him, and that is being around kids for an extended amount of time. They have a completely different form of logic that doesn't make any sense half of the time, and if you spend too long trying to figure it out, you'll just drive yourself insane.
That honesty extends to the three adult characters in C'Mon C'Mon as well. The moment that is likely going to hit home for a lot of people is when Viv, Jesse's mom and Johnny's sister, played by Gaby Hoffmann, talks about how much she loves her son but sometimes she can't stand to be in the same room as him. There is a misconception going into parenting that many talk about, and that is how hard it really is. In media, the reality of parenting is often sugar-coated or, again, you only see the extremes. Sometimes, you need to spend time with your kid even as they drive you insane, and you love and hate every second of it. The first time we see Johnny, with Joaquin Phoenix giving one of his best performances in years, if not his best ever, really panic because he thought he lost Jesse and the way he lashes out. It hits you right in the stomach, and you wonder how many times you made your parents panic as a kid because you were hiding in the clothing rack while in a store.
Johnny is estranged from Viv and goes from an uncle that his nephew doesn't even recognize to having to be a long-term caretaker when Viv has to go and take care of her husband as he suffers from a manic episode. It's fun at first, of course, and both of them get a little too complacent with each other. Johnny thinks he has this, and even though it's never said in the movie, you can tell he's thinking that "I've got this parenting thing" until the reality of your kid pushing back starts to sink in. These two yell at each other, they get into fights, and Johnny has to yell at Jesse and then panic because he feels so terrible about yelling, but he was also so afraid at the same time. It's just lovely to watch Johnny and Jesse circle each other, get a little better at understanding each other, and the chemistry between Phoenix and Norman is lovely.
Director and writer Mike Mills chose to make Johnny a radio host who interviews kids about their hopes and dreams for the future of the world. Those moments, captured with real kids and not actors that are unscripted, are some of the best moments in the film. The things that some of these kids and young adults say will break your heart and give you so much hope for the future at the same time. Mills chooses to show these interviews throughout the film as it switches between the fictional story of Johnny and Jesse and real kids in real cities explaining their real hopes, dreams, and fears. Again, the sincerity and honesty of those kids just bring the entire movie down to the Earth in the best possible way. It's sincere, it's honest, and there isn't a frame of this movie that feels like Mills is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Not when it comes to kids driving their parents nuts, not when kids scream that they are fine with tears in their eyes, not when a wife desperately tries to talk her bipolar husband into getting the help he needs, not when a child of an immigrant in New York talks about their struggles, and not when a teenager in New Orleans talks about the city losing its own identity.
C'Mon C'Mon not only features some excellent performances, but it might be one of the most honest movies to come out this year. It's not a documentary, but the real interviews and unscripted responses from the kids that we see throughout the movie show that the next generation is so beautiful. We're reminded through Johnny, Jesse, and Viv that we're all complex human beings and that none of this is easy, but you need to just push through sometimes. Mills is known for his movies that show the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of humanity, and this one is no different.