“I’m not fine and that’s a totally reasonable response!”Johnny
Precocious younger children in films have a tendency to be written as cloyingly sweet or unrealistically witty, a trap that Mike Mills largely avoids with Jesse — this is elevated by Woody Norman’s naturalistic performance, as infuriating as he is charming, and knowledgeable without undue wisdom. C’mon C’mon’s overarching theme is fear and hope for the future, explored most overtly through genuine interviews with American children who candidly articulate their concerns to radio journalists played by Joaquin Phoenix and Radiolab producer Molly Webster. This is crystallised in Jesse who has a general awareness that his neurodivergent father is troubled and fears the same fate will befall him. Whilst his mother tends to his father, Jesse is left in the care of his uncle Johnny, whom Phoenix portrays as unprepared but not unwilling. As an uncle to a fascinatingly intelligent nephew, I was immediately drawn into this relationship, presented not in idealised fashion but with insecurity and rage alongside the friendship blossoming between them. Set across LA, New York and New Orleans, the black and white cinematography renders the cities more orderly without the cacophony of colour, in a way that suits the focus on audio recording. Whilst there is a slight air of artificiality to its setup, C’mon C’mon is successful in highlighting children’s own oft-ignored anxiety for the future rather than merely using them as a mirror for adults’ apprehension.