Inspired by early interactions with his infant son, writer and director Mike Mills tells a contemplative tale with latest feature C’mon C’mon. The tender drama centres around Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a journalist of sorts travelling state to state conducting philosophical interviews with the youth of today about their future. When his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) is called upon to care for her mentally troubled ex-husband, she asks if Johnny will look after his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) for a while. Despite their obvious gulf in age and life experience, the mismatched pair learn a lot from one another during a trip to New York City.
Even though there’s a style choice to shoot in a soft black and white, Mills manages to craft a warmth without colour, and this gentle style is becoming synonymous with his work to date. The simple plot follows a buddy movie narrative arc effectively, where Johnny and Jesse’s relationship develops against luscious cityscapes; scenes in Manhattan are particularly well captured by accomplished cinematographer Robbie Ryan.
Conflict arises in moments of panic where the burden of responsibility triggers anxiety in the protagonist, like when Johnny momentarily loses sight of Jesse at a local store. These emotional beats do become quite repetitive and combined with a spattering of apparent wisdom nuggets from the recorded exchanges with teens, the sweeping sentimentality threatens to edge over into contrivance.
After becoming more associated in recent years with menacing turns in the likes of Joker and You Were Never Really Here, it’s refreshing to see Joaquin Phoenix in one of his lighter roles. The patient rhythm of this intimate story lets him express his range to great effect, bringing vulnerability and charm to one of his most likeable characters in years. His performance works well against the playful energy of his co-star Norman, a rising British newcomer in his biggest part so far. Hoffman provides stellar support as Viv, portraying the pivotal bridging character that’s essential in fleshing out the different sides to Johnny and Jesse’s personalities.
C’mon C’mon marks another kind-hearted hit from Mike Mills, his affectionate writing and direction providing a platform that showcases the acting talents of Phoenix and Norman. This effort has a little less to say for itself than his previous films, but it’s a pleasant experience to eavesdrop on its conversations.