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'C'mon C'mon' review: Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman will melt your heart in emotional drama

Courtesy of A24


After getting inside the mindset of one of the most ruthless villains in Todd Phillips’ divisive “Joker,” it’s no surprise Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix followed it up with Mike Mills' stirring black-and-white drama “C’mon, C’mon,” one of the best movies of the year. It’s a laid back performance from Phoenix who shares the majority of his screentime with young co-star Woody Norman, a remarkable actor unphased by standing toe-to-toe with two cinematic heavyweights. “C’mon C’mon” is both joyous and soul crushing in its presentation on parenting and childhood trauma, a memory play about the lengths we go to protect our children and the humanity found in each other.

“C’mon C’mon” obsesses over sounds and relationships, which is something Johnny (Phoenix) does for a living. He’s a public radio reporter who travels across the country with his microphone pack and humble personality and talks to people. Society has become so digitized in their obsession with technology, I took Mills black-and-white aesthetic as an ode to the analog days where we actually had to have conversations with the person sitting directly across from you. Johnny loves what he does even if the results of sitting down with children who survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans takes a heavy toll. But he always treats his on-air subjects with respect and dignity, getting on their level for raw, unfiltered dialogue.

Those tricks come in handy as Johnny looks after his 9-year nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) for an extended period of time while his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman who is nothing short of incredible) has to take care of her mentally unstable husband (played in flashback by Scoot McNairy). Living on opposite coasts, and a falling out after mom died, has kept Johnny away from Jesse, but the strange kid, who enjoys blasting Beethoven on Saturday mornings, immediately confines in his uncle with no filter. Asking personal questions about his father’s illness and Johnny’s detachment from the family (“Why aren’t you married?”).

Jesse is described as “a whole little person” and if that ain’t the truth. It’s a complex, sophisticated role breathed to resounding life by Norman who gives probably the breakthrough performance of 2021. Himself and Phoenix make a great pair and watching them interact creates a rare dynamic. Jesse, in particular, has lots of needs: from daily bedtime stories, sleeping in the grownups’ beds, to scurrying off and hiding in plain daylight without warning, “C’mon C'mon'' shows the hardships of parenting in all its unattractiveness. But the tender, sweet spots make an impact and the bonding sessions between the two as they travel from LA to NYC for Johnny’s work quietly puncates everything Mills is yearning for.

Jesse loves recording sounds like beach noises and traffic jams and, of course, Johnny wastes no time turning those moments into life lessons. The same goes for the several phone conversations Hoffman and Phoenix share throughout the movie as the actors have no trouble settling into the familiar sibling rhythm. Like the entire movie, each of their one-on-one’s is relatable on a human scale. Nothing is forced, and nothing feels awkward. Mills' previous efforts, “20th Century Women” and “Beginners” dealt with similar themes, but while those movies had their strengths, “Cmon Cmon” needs to be cherished. A film deeply rooted in the scope of human companionship that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a movie in black-and-white as the sympathetic nature of the screenplay has no problem showing its true colors.

Grade: A-

CMON CMON opens in theaters (nationwide) Friday, December 3rd.


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