Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Mike Mills
Screenwriter: Mike Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/01/21
Opens: November 19, 2021
When kids are in elementary school, there is the obligatory day that their fathers or mothers are invited into the classroom to tell the class what they do. The object, of course, is to get children into the habit of thinking of the future. Which parent would I be like? Would I love her job as much as she does? Then inevitably, someone will come around to each child to ask about the little one’s ambitions for the future. And just as inevitably, the answer is: an astronaut (probably number 1); a police officer; a fire fighter. Maybe nowadays they would say computer coder, but nobody aspires to be the guy stuck all day in a New York kiosk of metro station selling newspapers, Mars bars and juice.
In “C’mon C’mon,” Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a broadcast journalist, is involved with interviewing kids to find out not so much what they want to be, but what they think the city, the world, the universe would be like years from now. The unscripted answers they give show their intelligence, their thoughtfulness; it’s a pleasure to hear from these charming young people. Johnny himself is unmarried, his center being the radio program. What we know about him is that he has been estranged from his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) for a year because of some disagreement about treating their dying mother. Wouldn’t you now an occasion arises that requires Viv to get help, since she is having trouble her bi-polar husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) and has to leave town to care for him for a longer time than she had anticipated. What to do with her nine-year-old son Jesse (Woody Norman)? Why not ask Johnny to babysit for several weeks despite the radio announcer’s lack of experience with young people save for the brief interviews we have with a diversity of kids?
The babysit leads to a relationship between Johnny and the nephew he did not really know. Now Jesse at nine is precocious but also lonely; he is not the “normal” child and knows it. He has no friends because there really is nobody in the New York neighborhood quite like him; there are likely thousands of boys and girls who have trouble making pals because of their distinctiveness. But Jesse is going to bond with this uncle in a relationship that he will remember forever.
We watch on the screen as the kindship grows. It moves ahead in fits and starts. Johnny is amused that the boy sometimes plays that he is an orphan and that Johnny is here to care for him. Other times he becomes arrogant; a pain in the ass as he wisely puts it. When Johnny, who has to go to New York for his broadcast interviews, asks whether Jesse would like to accompany him, he replies “I’d love it.” There are incidents that will leave the movie audience tense, since like the two in the story, they may have lost track of their charges, trembling that their little child would be run over by a bus or kidnapped.
Joaquin Phoenix is no Joker here. He is competent with his radio job, eliciting full-sentence responses from young people who worry that their cities will be dirty in decades to come. But he is a fish-out-of-water at anything that requires attention to a young person for longer period than a fifteen-minute interview. For his part, Woody Norman just may have knocked out one of the boldest interpretations of childhood that we will ever see on the big screen. He was eleven years old at the time of the filming, having served as a model since the age of four. In the film he listens to a part of Mozart’s Requiem: we can believe that like the musical genius who preceded him, he is similarly talented but in the thespian profession.
The film shows Phoenix often challenged by his young charge but never going ballistic, unless you count the time that he lost the kid for several minutes in New York. As Jesse, Woody Norman is regularly testing his caregiver, wondering whether he can trust the man to be supportive even during those brief times that he is acting as a pain. “C’mon C’mon” is the kind of picture that should have its audience telling their friend to c’mon c’mon to the movie.
108 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – B+