In this post-Trump pandemic era, one of the groups suffering the most has certainly been the kids. Having witnessed the worst of humankind these last few years, children are wondering about their place in the world and if things can ever truly get better. But they aren’t feeling heard or able to express their emotions. Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon puts the next generation in the forefront and asks the big question: how can adults better understand today’s youth?
Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio host who travels across the country to interview kids about their hopes, dreams, and fears. But while he’s a natural at interviewing strangers, he can be a little rough with his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), an energetic nine-year-old with the world’s most vivid imagination. When Johnny’s sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), needs to get away, he’s left to watch her son and discovers that his professional experience with kids doesn’t necessarily translate well to his personal life.
Jesse and Johnny’s relationship is sweet and nurturing, showing that not even a year apart can sour this tender relationship between uncle and nephew. Johnny lets Jesse explore sounds with his audio equipment, and in return, he answers Jesse’s difficult questions, which force him to confront his shaky past with his sister. Johnny tries to understand his nephew and adhere to his daily routine while also keeping his father’s treatment for bipolar disorder under wraps. But Jesse is nine years old and doesn’t want to be treated like a toddler anymore.
Mills is a pro at emotional family dramas (see his previous two features, Beginners and 20th Century Women), and he handles this uncle/nephew dynamic with such care and empathy. Johnny tries to get down to Jesse’s level, but even he shows frustrations whenever his nephew becomes difficult. But he overcomes these challenges by simply asking Jesse how he’s feeling and assuring him that his concerns are valid. It’s a subtle, but powerful performance from Phoenix that speaks volumes.
Hoffmann’s role as Viv is also wonderfully complex. It’s clear she loves her son deeply and would do anything for him, but even she is driven to her last nerve. At one point, she mentions how sometimes she can’t even be in the same room as him. But Mills doesn’t villainize her at all. He makes it seem like it’s an everyday part of parenthood (which it is). She’s never punished for her thoughts but rather is asked to be understood as a parent and as a woman who is incredibly lonely.
C’mon C’mon is empathetic and emotional but never emotionally manipulative. Mills crafts a poignant drama that lets the audience know that the kids aren’t alright. With Johnny’s interviews (which are real) seeded throughout the narrative, the youth finally get to take center stage at just the right time.
C’mon C’mon is now playing in select theaters. Watch the official trailer here.