Manifesto734’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm not familiar with Mike Mills, but after this, I think I need to be.
Going in, I wasn't sure what this was even about. The trailer gave very little info, but still piqued my interest, certainly due in large part to Joaquin Phoenix being the star. And it turned out to be a wonderfully tender portrait of emotional expression, the difficulty and confusion of parenting, the importance of having real, honest exchanges away from elentronic stimuli, the relationships forged between kids and adults and more. This felt like one of the more honest films I've seen in a while, though its indie sensibility may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Phoenix plays Johnny, a documentarian whose job is to record sound. His sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) is thrown into a sudden situation where she has to be away from her eccentric son Jesse (Woody Norman), so Johnny is enlisted to help. Naturally, there are moments of strain and moments of bonding, and they all felt very authentic. This kind of film wouldn't work at all if the chemistry between Johnny and Jesse wasn't there, but they are great together. They're thrown together suddenly, but their bond strengthens appropriately after the initial bumps. Jesse and Johnny are so sweet together, and it's a credit to how good Phoenix is and how well Norman holds his own.
I loved the black and white, the aerial photography in the urban scenes and the general sense of care and empathy that Mills puts into every scene. I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie that made me think so hard about my own behavior as a parent and as a listener. It made me want to try some new things with my family, and try to become a better, stronger person. That's about the strongest compliment I can offer.
The movie is a bit slow and somewhat repetitive at times, but overall I really enjoyed what it was telling and showing me. I greatly appreciated Johnny telling Jesse that it's okay not to be okay, as that's something I don't think our kids hear often enough.
And from what I can gather after seeing this? We aren't hearing them enough either.