In C’mon C’mon, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is tasked with watching his nine-year-old nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), as his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) is off taking care of Jesse’s father as he experiences an intense bipolar episode. 

A Stylized Cinematic Journey

In typical A24 fashion, C’mon C’mon is highly stylized. Initially, some more cynical viewers may try to write the film off as being pretentious, with director Mike Mills trying to create an “artsy” film just for the sake of being stylistic. However, as the story advances, it becomes progressively more evident that Mills has lovingly and painstakingly used every tool at his disposal with absolute intent. From its black & white format to its out-of-sequence structure intertwined with unique text overlays and very specific sound design, every element is a deliberate choice providing a more complete insight into each character’s psyche. A story that may at first seem mundane soon unfolds into a beautiful, heart-wrenchingly sincere tale of joy, pain, and perseverance. His ability to tell the story through the juxtaposition of children and adults vocalizing their feelings is brilliant. He masterfully demonstrates how they both navigate the same ever-changing world, but from completely different perspectives. He avoids traditional exposition, which can often feel forced or unnatural, and replaces it with selected audio from both radio journalist Johnny’s (Joaquin Phoenix) recordings with children on their views of the world, his own recorded thoughts, and passages from various books that he reads aloud. These audio clips are often paired with beautifully broken visuals of beautifully broken people: from Johnny arguing with his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) as their mother’s health deteriorates, to moments of pure joy and elation as Viv dances with her son Jesse (Woody Norman).

Mills is clearly an incredible director who is able to inspire the same passion for his work in his cast; the performances in this film are truly a Master Class in acting. The portrayals of the main three characters are completely transformative. Every actor is able to so truthfully embody their characters, that they can make even the simplest of moments seem extraordinary. 

C'mon C'mon: (L-R) Woody Norman as Jesse and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny

Powerful performances carry C’mon C’mon

In his first performance since his Oscar-winning role as Arthur Fleck in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix gives a hauntingly moving performance that beautifully ranges from uplifting to doleful. As Johnny, he narrates the story with raw authenticity as he confides in his recorder, a virtual audio diary in which Johnny discovers his own fears, regrets, and hopes and allows the audience to experience these revelations alongside him. His interviews focus on children across the US and their feelings toward the world as it exists now and of the future. They sharply range hopeful and optimistic to painfully bleak and dire. These recordings feel almost like an actual documentary in their sincere depiction of the array of emotions children feel in today’s world filled with depleting resources. While they at times mirror the feelings of the adult characters, they also supply profound insight into the evolution and growing intensity of the struggles thrust upon today’s youth.

Gaby Hoffman is absolutely enthralling in her gritty, honest depiction of a mother and wife struggling to help both her neurodivergent husband and child simultaneously, while also embodying a true sense of self. Delivering one of the best performances of her career, she can effortlessly demonstrate her previous struggles with both Johnny and her mother with subtle realism, often allowing her facial expressions and physicality alone silently fill in the gaps. She captivates the audience as we see these strained relationships act as both a mirror and a foil, strongly influencing her approach as a parent as well as a sister. While the primary focus of C’mon C’mon is on Johnny and Jesse, her scenes are absolutely engrossing and drenched with a sense of honesty that’s almost palpable. 

Woody Norman also delivers a truly remarkable performance. He will no doubt end up a very sought-after young talent once people see this film. The fact that he is only eleven years old is astonishing, as he delivers a performance that rivals his older and heavily experienced co-stars. His ability to seamlessly transition from displays of Jesse’s often disarming level of maturity to moments showing fits of intense emotion typical of a nine-year-old reminds the audience that no matter how well-spoken and intelligent he may be, he’s still a child who is fully dependent on Johnny. In his exceptional and effortless portrayal of Jesse, Norman is able to authentically drive the story, challenging and inspiring Johnny in virtually all aspects of his life. This young actor is most assuredly going to be on every directors’ radar after this stunningly genuine performance, so I have no doubt we’ll be seeing much more from him in the future.

While films like Beginners, Thumbsucker, and 20th Century Women have already put Mills on the map, I strongly believe this film will now solidify him as one of the best directors of the year. Like his previous films, C’Mon C’Mon is certainly a contender for a slew of awards. It will be no surprise if this film is not only nominated for several Oscars but also takes home several well-deserved wins. This director’s unique and beguiling execution keeps the audience in their seats from start to finish. In fact, even the closing credits continue to tell the story in a unique way. He shuns the traditional closing score and instead layers audio clips of profound insights from the children featured in Johnny’s recordings which evoke an all-new array of emotions from lachrymose to sanguine even after the film has technically ended. This film truly never stops giving until the house lights come up and will no doubt influence filmmakers for years to come. This is definitely one to add to your list!