Childhood is terrifying. You’re thrown into a world of new experiences, sights and people as your little peanut brain tries to comprehend it all. There’s a wonder to seeing the world for the first time, but as you grow older, you begin to remember less and less of these memories. How can we go through these formative years with little to no recollection of those tiny moments that shaped who we are? Childhood is just as terrifying from the outside looking in. I don’t have a kid, yet I’m constantly struck by impending dread when I think of screwing it all up. I don’t know how to do this. Does anyone? Are we doing enough? Too much? The experiences we encounter in these young years can forever change us, and it seems there’s always been this disconnect of understanding between parent and child when it comes to how these experiences affect us.
C’mon C’mon is a heartwarming attempt to spark these necessary conversations through a narrative that also serves as a kind of psuedo-documentary. A radio journalist name Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is in the middle of a cross country journey to interview kids about their lives, their emotions and their futures. When his formerly estranged sister (Gabby Hoffman) needs to abruptly leave to go help her mentally ill ex-husband, Johnny volunteers to watch his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), while she’s gone. Through a slew of confusion and frustration blossoms a friendship between the two that ends up teaching both of them more about themselves than they previously knew.
Without big emotional swings or dramatic heart-wrenching monologues, this film captivated me in a way I wasn’t expecting. There’s so much compassion on display here, all broadcasted through little moments that may have once felt insignificant in the grand scheme of things. A visit to the skatepark; an argument over brushing your teeth; a phone call with your parent. All these moments manage to carry so much weight without the dressings of a traditional dramatic narrative. Childhood, parenthood and accepting our emotions are all quietly dissected here through genuine, honest dialogue and authentic characters. The line between reality and fiction begin to blur even further with addition of interviews with children and teens that are anything but scripted (and if they are holy cow). This isn’t a formulated, constructed world we are experiencing. This is our world, and these are the real thoughts and concerns of today’s youth.
The duo of Phoenix and Norman is nothing short of outstanding. Both are frustrated by what they can’t immediately understand while also each experiencing and parental loss of some kind. Phoenix once again proves his caliber with his restrained, down-to-Earth performance to absolutely no surprise to me. But it’s Woody Norman that truly steals the show, delivering one of the best child performances I’ve seen in a very long time. His role as Jesse perfectly embodies the childhood experience; the frustration, the wonder. He’s intelligent yet naive to his own emotions, and by the end Johnny and he experience such a significant growth thanks in part to their friendship and differing views of the world around them. Finally, Hoffman can’t be ignored as Jesse’s mother Viv, a woman whose world seems to be crumbling around her yet must still find a way to raise her child into a compassionate human. She carries the most emotional weight throughout the film, and while she isn’t always present, her impact on Johnny and Jesse is always felt.
Director Mike Mills has managed to craft a film that says so much with so little, capturing the essence of living through a tiny adventure between uncle and nephew. The realistic portrayals of sorrow, happiness and anger almost make you forget you’re watching a movie, while the beautiful black and white cinematography envelope you in the hidden beauty of city skylines and beaches. There’s always an air of optimism despite the hardships, as even as the interviewed kids seem unsure of what the future holds, there’s always a hope that things will turn out alright.
Subtly and quietly brilliant, C’mon C’mon takes an honest look at children; how we interact with them and how we used to be one. Complex emotions are presented in a simplicity that doesn’t overwhelm you but also doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid. The performances are ripped straight from everyday life and manage to tap into the relatively unspoken parts of ourselves. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you remember.
“It’s okay to not be fine.”