Five years since his last feature (the Oscar-nominated 20th Century Women), Mike Mills returns to the big screen with C’mon C’mon, a touching family drama slash stripped-back road trip that sees radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) develop a close bond with his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman), a precocious child whose mother is dealing with the mental health of her husband.
The drama is very much anchored in the tradition of films that sees a somewhat emotionally unavailable adult learning to get in touch with his innocence through a cherubic young’un, and it scores when it explores how one can open oneself up to the joys of the everyday through the act of truly listening. However, while it avoids many saccharine pitfalls that could be expected of a premise centred around surrogate parenthood, you can’t help but feel that the overuse of flashbacks and voice-overs weigh the central story down.
That said, the black-and-white photography works wonders and the chemistry between Phoenix and Norman is remarkable throughout. Just make sure it catches you on a day when you’re feeling vulnerable to a slightly overindulgent emotional ride.
Starts Mar 24 D: Mike Mills (US, 2021), with Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman.