Rollatini’s review published on Letterboxd:
In what’s likely going to be the most underrated film of the year, Mike Mills delivers a heartwarming narrative on growing up, parenthood, and how it’s okay to admit you’re not okay sometimes. C’mon C’mon feels so distinct with it’s genuine dialogue, making you lose the concept of you watching this as a movie. Instead, you find yourself engulfed in a familial relationship as if it’s your very own.
Joaquin Phoenix plays a New York native (Johnny) who travels the U.S. interviewing children about their expectations for society in the future. The irony in that comes with the fact that he has no outside experience with children, having none of his own. He is, however, the uncle of Jesse (Woody Norman), a friendless nine-year-old with an oddball personality. The two must live together for an extended period after Jesse’s mom (Gaby Hoffmann) has to travel to deal with a situation with her ex husband (Scoot McNairy). This sets up two generations at odds with each other for most of the film until an adorable friendship is built between Phoenix and Norman.
The adult sibling duo have just as complicated of a connection. They lose their mother, shown in flashbacks at the beginning of the film and are also both separated from their partners. Their relationship is a realistic example of how easily personal conflicts can divide a family.
The portrayal of children as they really are is perfect. They are shown to be intelligent and equally as important to society as adults. Along with learning through the children he interviews, Johnny learns just as much from Jesse as Jesse does from him. I loved how the story builds each character into a better version of themself through the help of family. In the end, Johnny is able to come to terms with his issues and verbally admit them. This encourages Jesse to admit his problems in a very raw manner, one that is accurate to what it actually looks like to come to terms with something.
The performances from the main trio were exceptional. If the Academy doesn’t forget this film entirely, I hope that at least two members of the cast are nominated. Joaquin Phoenix has an even better, and strikingly different, performance than his last film, Joker (2019). His subtle acting ability is so powerful and proves that there’s a reason he’s one of highest regarded actors working today. But what’s even more shocking is that the child actor, Woody Norman, is equally as great. Norman is clearly going to be a star as he is already on par with some of the most accomplished actors in the business. His deliveries never slump and he has the perfect American accent. It’s pretty amazing that he’s an English actor as it it never once shows. Finally, Gaby Hoffmann masterfully portrays a mother in her rawest form: tired and mentally destroyed. All of her problems feel undeniably real and I can’t get over how genuine her conversations on the phone felt. She delivers so much raw emotion and is just as memorable as the others.
The intensely genuine sounding dialogue needs to be commended. C’mon C’mon has the best screenplay of the year. I have never felt more like I was watching real life people talk than in this film. Mike Mills has a deep understanding of how people actually speak in moments of crisis and when we’re just being damn silly with our family.
The film is in black and white. That, more often than not, means it’s not going to profit by much. This isn’t helped by the fact that it is being shown in a tiny number of theaters. But it’s extremely unfortunate because the cinematography is brilliant. Robbie Ryan is already well respected for his work on The Favourite and Marriage Story. The cityscapes he shot in this are insane and the street shots are just as invigorating. The black and white never feels like a gimmick. It’s so crisp and meshes well with how simple and old fashioned of a story this is.
Outside of some minor issues with pacing in the third act, C’mon C’mon is essentially perfect. The beauty in it’s simplicity is what many modern directors need to take notes from. Mills’ optimistic view on society was masterfully condensed into a single family’s experiences, making for the most sincere film of the year.