anubhav2804’s review published on Letterboxd:
When his sister asks him to look after her son, a radio journalist embarks on a cross-country trip with his energetic nephew to show him life away from Los Angeles.
With C’mon C’mon, writer/director Mike Mills continues to examine and affirm the vulnerable chambers of the heart and psyche that we so often fiercely guard from revealing to others. Reflective and poignant, his films are companions for the parts of us that we struggle to accept, particularly when it comes to reconciling individual experiences within the context of family.
Precocious children are not only difficult to write but aren’t always executed well. There is a delicate balance between showing a child who still has the innocence or ignorance of a child, paired with their street smarts, book smarts, or the type of knowledge you wouldn’t associate with a child of their age. With Jesse, you get a perfect balance.
What we get from Jesse is a kid who, because his mom is an educator and father dealing with a mental illness, was given all the tools needed to understand his emotions and the space to question how others feel. But, despite these tools, often we see Jesse as a child who might be aware of how to use those tools on others, but not so much himself. And even when it comes to others, like Johnny, there is a lack of discernment on when it is appropriate to question how an adult feels and knowing when to back off.
This is all done with a sort of innocence since, in the safety of his mother’s presence, she is looked upon to handle a situation that can get out of hand. But with Johnny a borderline stranger, Jesse is uninhibited and without reins. Thus, you can see a child who has attained a massive amount of information, yet also one overwhelmed by his youth, the helplessness of his situation, and dealing with a person whose experience with children is purely one-sided or transactional.
What C’mon C’mon does so well is treat kids with the dignity they deserve. Johnny listens and learns from them. Their thoughts, worries, and dreams aren’t at all brushed aside or looked down upon. Mills makes sure to put them on equal ground as adults, often by leaning into the notion that they are just as lost and confused by the world as kids are and might need some assistance to get through life. The film veers towards the sentimental, but in a way that is lovely and authentic to the journey of its characters. C’mon C’mon is endearing and honest, yet unwilling to take a turn into contrived melodramatic territory where it could have so easily gone.
Through Johnny, C’mon C’mon explores parenthood and the difficulties, pressure, and complicated feelings that so often arise by virtue of the responsibilities that come with it. The film gently ponders life, love, and pain through communication, unabashedly using its characters’ emotional connection to drive the narrative, bringing it to a moving and effective conclusion that will pull at the heartstrings. The film is elevated by the palpable onscreen chemistry between Phoenix and Norman, who is unbelievably good and the pair magnetic to watch together. Phoenix’s performance is layered and evocative, as is Hoffman’s, who is endearing and weary as Viv.
C’mon C’mon is a heartfelt affirmation to anyone with young people in their life. C’mon C’mon reassures us that while we are all flawed, we also have deep reserves of grace within us. When we honour this grace, we hold each other up and we heal ourselves in the process.
The film is surprisingly gripping in its analysis of adulthood, family relationships, and the ups and downs of raising a child. C’mon C’mon sneaked up on me, carefully introducing the characters and their conflicts without oversharing. There is just enough to understand the hurt and enough happiness to balance out what is ultimately a very human and profound viewing experience which I'm not forgetting in a long, long time.
*Be sure to stay through the credits to hear the real interviews conducted with the kids seen in Johnny’s documentary.*