With Beginners (2010), Mike Mills paid tribute to his father, who waited until he was seventy-five to come out. Mills has said that 20th Century Women (2016) is a “love letter” to the women who raised him, his mother and sister. The inspiration for his new film, C’mon C’mon, is a conversation he had with his son while giving him a bath. Dispatching to the Los Angeles Times from Telluride, where the film premiered a few weeks ago, Justin Chang called C’mon C’mon “a fine-grained family drama, a loose-limbed road movie and the latest reminder of Mills’s talent for reshaping elements of his personal history into stirringly personal cinema.”
Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist working on a story about what American kids imagine their futures will be like. Clips from Johnny’s interviews with these children responding candidly as themselves are interspersed throughout C’mon C’mon. Johnny hasn’t spoken much with his Los Angeles–based sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), since their mother died, but he calls her from New York and finds her stressed out. Her ex-husband, Paul (Scoot McNairy), the father of her nine-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman), has been having mental health issues. She needs to get up to the Bay Area and convince him to seek professional help. Johnny offers to fly out and take care of Jesse while she’s gone.
“We’ve seen plenty of films in which an independent person is suddenly saddled with a child,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. “What Mills does so ingeniously in C’mon C’mon is approach that triteness head-on. This is exactly that kind of movie, and it knows it. Johnny loses Jesse in a store! Jesse asks awkward questions about Johnny’s personal life! And Jesse, at times, wouldn’t you know it, seems to be the one raising Johnny. Aware of all that formula, Mills takes the time to specify what it might mean for these particular people . . . Mills makes this genre feel new and insightful.”
C’mon C’mon is “a collection of tiny acting miracles,” writes Carlos Aguilar at TheWrap. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney finds Norman to be “quite wonderful; he’s exceptionally natural, his every thought, word, and action reading as entirely spontaneous. And Phoenix, exploring a funny-sad, gentle side of his persona we seldom get to see, is always unquestionably in the moment, a man struggling through an unfamiliar process.”
Featuring a soundtrack from twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, C’mon C’mon is shot in black and white by Robbie Ryan, who has worked with Andrea Arnold, Sally Potter, Ken Loach, and Yorgos Lanthimos. Mills’s “visual inferences have never been more evocative,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, but “his dramatic currents have never been so diffuse.” At the Playlist, though, Rodrigo Perez calls C’mon C’mon “deeply human, gently probing, sharply observed, and luminously emotional.” Tomris Laffly, writing for RogerEbert.com, agrees: “One of the most deeply reflective American filmmakers working today, Mills is a storyteller with a baring, raw sense of honesty, one so evidently in touch with his feelings and unafraid of abruptly burst emotions.”