‘C’mon C’mon’ review: Mike Mills’ best film yet

Jack Harris ’22 review the new film “C’mon C’mon” from Mike Mills and A24.

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Jack Harris

The film “C’mon C’mon” was released on Nov. 19.

“C’mon C’mon” is a humble film. It never pretends to be anything more than recorded images but never tries to show anything that isn’t honest. It often quotes other works, receptive to the idea that it can be helped through other writing. Most humbly of all, it seeks not to entertain, but to connect. Specifically, “C’mon C’mon” explores the relationship between children and adults in a way that is equally compassionate towards both. 

The moments in this film may be fictitious, but they happen to millions of people across the world every single day. The characters in “C’mon C’mon” even feel like real people, and by the end of the film, one finds themselves wishing they were. The main two characters are Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), and his nine-year-old nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman). The story is rounded out with the characters of Jessie’s parents, Viv (Gaby Hoffman) and Paul (Scoot Mcnary). Each actor plays their role as if they’re telling the story of a person they love. Many have attempted it before, but this is one of the only films to successfully portray the idea that every person’s life is equally complex, painful, and jubilant.

“C’mon C’mon” explores the relationship between children and adults in a way that is equally compassionate towards both.”

— Jack Harris '22

Writer and Director Mike Mills chose to shoot the film in black and white. The presentation subdues the film, subconsciously forcing the audience to focus more on the characters and their lines, rather than the film as a whole. While the cinematography is dazzling, the focus is instead on the deep philosophical conversation taking place between Johnny and Jesse. Although his age has not yet reached double digits, Jesse is quite reserved, preferring to spend time in the company of adults rather than other children. While this could be attributed to his lack of siblings, the film seems to imply that it’s more to do with his closeness to his mother, a relationship fortified by the separation of his parents, and his father’s struggles with mental illness. His father’s illness is also what instigates the plot of the film, as Viv leaves to try and convince Paul to check into a psychiatry ward. In her absence, the only one left to take care of Jesse is Viv’s brother Johnny, who interviews people for a living. The first day, Johnny wakes up to deafening classical music. He finds Jesse downstairs lying on the floor. He says, “Saturdays are my days to be loud.” Johnny responds, “Can you turn it down a little?”

When I’m older, will you remind me what I was like when I was little?”

— Jesse

This dynamic between Johnny and Jesse is what the rest of the film is dedicated to, as topics such as parenting, innocence, life, and attachment are explored in depth. Johnny is in some ways a representation of the audience, as both he and the audience are getting to know Jesse for the first time. Johnny is also used to represent anyone who has never been a parent, and his inexperience leads to many conflicts throughout the film. However, one of the main points of the film is that inexperienced parenting is not the primary cause of conflicts. Rather, it’s an inability for children to articulate their emotions or communicate their needs. In the scenes where we do see Johnny get angry at Jesse, it’s deeply upsetting to see how sad and confused this makes Jesse, as he doesn’t understand what he’s done, and feels betrayed by his guardian. This doesn’t mean Johnny is a bad person. Like every parent, sometimes Johnny messes up, but in every other scene, he does all he can to take as best care of Jesse as possible. 

As this film tells it, children are the most important, most beautiful, and most precious things to grace the earth, at least to those who watch over them. They may not remember it, but they still need it. Early on in the film, Jesse asks Johnny to tell him what Viv was like when she was little. A while later, Jesse makes another request. He says to Johnny, “When I’m older, will you remind me what I was like when I was little?” Johnny replies, “Yes.” and gives him a long hug.