C’mon C’mon is a distinctly inauthentic, contrived viewing experience more likely to have viewers chanting “go away, go away.”
Next only to dead wives, doomed love triangles, abusive parents, and being “the chosen one,” precocious, quirky children might be the single most annoying and commonly relied-on narrative cliche commercial cinema has to offer. They’re usually paired with a grumpy adult for any given number of contrived reasons — one who may at one point openly verbalize their dislike of youngsters, depending on how hacky the screenplay is — where, upon spending a little forced quality time together, surprise surprise, each party learns a little something about life and themselves along the way, with a key emphasis placed on the curmudgeon’s outward nastiness being sanded down via the feels. Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon is yet another rendition of this tired premise, though this one doesn’t even really try to construct much internal drama within its scenario. If anything, it largely plays like a “cute” story one parent would tell that absolutely nobody else in the office gives a shit about/has the courage to outright tell them to shut up about. Radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a generally nice enough guy, volunteers to look after his estranged sister’s son Jesse (Woody Norman), who blasts Wagner in his free time and enjoys role-playing as an orphan — ya know, the type of kid who could only feasibly exist in works of pure fiction, usually written by people who’ve never actually raised one — where the two end up embarking on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, heartbreak, and blah, blah; you get the basic hackneyed idea.
Triteness, here, is Mills’ go-to engagement strategy with the material, as you don’t get one, but two different moments where Johnny loses Jesse in a public setting — all for them to kiss and make-up one scene later, possibly for fear of repelling viewers with the uncomfortable truth that child-rearing isn’t a pleasant experience — which is just one of many predictable, often calculated emotional beats and tactics in a film that feels like an extended list of them (including the use of bland digital black-and-white photography that’s clearly aiming for some Manhattan-esque poeticism). To counterbalance these blatantly deliberate narrative and formal strategies, there’s a rather laborious framing device thrown in involving real-life minors being interviewed about their futures, all for a documentary Johnny is working on; in practical terms, it’s the central reason why he and Jesse traverse across most of the United States for a bulk of the runtime. And while there’s an evident charm to seeing, say, Detroit adolescents rebuking popular media narratives about their hometown being some crime-infested hellhole, it plays like a last-ditch effort at inserting authenticity into a project that’s decidedly lacking in any, where the actual issues of today’s youth feel entirely disconnected from the supposed struggles presented here.
Originally published as part of NYFF 2021 — Dispatch 5.