Review: C’mon C’mon

Year: 2021 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us into better people.”

These words were written by film critic Roger Ebert in regards to the power that cinema has to enrich the lives of viewers, and in no film that I’ve ever seen has the desire to use empathy to be a better person been as strong of a driving force as in C’mon C’mon.

Written and directed by Mike MillsC’mon C’mon tells the story of Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a documentary filmmaker who is given the task of looking after his nine-year-old nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), after his sister (i.e. Jesse’s mom, played by Gaby Hoffmann) has to tend to a family emergency. At first awkward and unsure of each other, as Johnny and Jesse spend more time together, they naturally bond and ultimately end up learning so much from each other.

When I first saw this film in December 2021, it instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies. And yet, I was also somewhat discouraged, because as an aspiring filmmaker myself, I felt as though Mills had essentially captured every feeling that I’ve ever wanted to put into a film, and that any film that I made to accomplish these same goals would simply look like a pale imitation of the real deal. Obviously, considering that I am currently in film school, that fleeting symptom of “Imposter Syndrome” has passed, but at the time, it seemed that Mills had so exceptionally nailed my personal philosophy of what film should set out to do that I had no hope of ever being able to match it, so why bother trying?

C'mon C'mon screenshot

That philosophy is that movies can, and should, strive to teach viewers something about themselves, or put them into the shoes of other people so that they can better understand the world around them. With C’mon C’mon, Mills achieves both of these goals. Blending documentary and narrative filmmaking techniques, Mills begins his film by allowing real-life kids and teenagers to talk about the world in ways that they are rarely asked to do. The result is eye-opening: almost immediately, it’s evident that these young people are so much more perceptive and thoughtful than many adults give them credit for. This sets the stage for the major narrative theme that runs throughout the film: that children are not alien beings who have a completely different view of the world than adults; they are, in fact, little humans who experience the same events in the same ways as everyone else, even if they aren’t yet equipped with the tools they need to “effectively” interact with the world around them. It’s our job, as adults, to teach young people how to grow into functional members of society, and the best way to do that, Mills argues, is by teaching them that it’s okay to feel feelings and to make mistakes; it’s how we respond to those feelings and mistakes that define who we are as people. And we might even learn something from the kids in the process.

This, I think, is a message that all viewers from any walk of life can take into account. If we all strived to listen — and I mean really listen — to the kids around us, and if we all gave ourselves permission to feel our feelings and to make mistakes, then we could communicate more openly and freely, and every aspect of our social lives would improve. C’mon C’mon is the rare type of film that can, as Ebert put it in his ever-succinct way, “make us into better people.”

If you are interested in this film, it is available on all digital platforms, on Blu-ray and DVD, and is also currently streaming on Showtime. I definitely recommend giving it a try; it may very well change your life.

Language: English
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 1 hr. 49 min.
Rating: R

Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster

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