Best Films of 2021
#4 – C’mon C’mon
I have somehow missed all three of C’mon C’mon writer-director Mike Mills’ previous films: 2005’s Thumbsucker, 2010’s Beginners, and 2016’s 20th Century Women.
I missed them despite great casts, glowing reviews and multiple award nominations. His latest effort, C’mon C’mon, suggests I have some catching up to do.
C’mon C’mon tells the story of radio producer Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman), brought together by a family emergency.
Jesse’s mom, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), must take care of her bipolar estranged husband, and Johnny volunteers to look after Jesse for a weekend that turns into several weeks. Johnny and Viv’s relationship has chilled following the death of their mother a year earlier, and this arrangement puts them on a path to reconciliation as well.
All three actors are phenomenal. Phoenix is always great, and it’s refreshing to see him embody such a soft-spoken, normal character and not one of the tormented souls he usually inhabits. Hoffmann, away from the main action and mostly performing on the phone, nevertheless makes Viv a warm and thoughtful presence. And Norman is uncannily good, delivering one of the most natural and effective child performances I’ve ever seen.
This is a human drama, fueled by character and not at all plot-driven. It reminded me a bit of the pre-trial bits of Kramer vs. Kramer, as the relationship between uncle and son grows from awkward to familiar.
I also saw echoes of Jon Favreau’s Chef, as Johnny brings Jesse along on work assignments in New York and New Orleans, exposing the boy to people and experiences that will shape him for years to come.
And I couldn’t help but think of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, given this film’s rich black-and-white cinematography, and the way Mills frames his characters against the backdrop of the beautiful cities they inhabit.
Despite sharing DNA with those films, C’mon C’mon feels like its own thing. Mills adds unique touches, such as radio interviews with real-life kids asked for their thoughts on the future, and excerpts from books and poems whose titles and authors are displayed onscreen.
The film feels like a celebration and embrace of not just this child and his family, but of all children and all families.
It’s gonna knock you dead when you come upside your head, you gettin’ ready?
Said here we go, yeah, alright, come on
Come on, let’s go, yeah
Everybody get down on your face now
Get ready, yeah
Okay, come on
Hey, put your hands up
Upside your knees, now do the ostrich (Do the ostrich)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (Do the ostrich)
Hey, take this forward and step on your head
Now do the ostrich (Do the ostrich)
Alright (Do the ostrich)
Here we go
Do the ostrich
You take a step forward then you turn to the right
Now do the ostrich (Do the ostrich, do the ostrich)
You turn to the left and then you feet upside your left
And do the ostrich (Do the ostrich, do the ostrich)
Now everyone go whoa, oh (Oh)
Hey, do do do, bah
Hey, do do do, bah
Hey, hey, hey, go, go, go
Hey, come on, baby, come up this time
Oh, baby, you tirin’ down
You get a little softer now, relax
You take it forward, put your head between your knees
One more time, yeah (Do the ostrich, do the ostrich)
Do just about anything you please, now come on
Get ready, baby, here we go (Do the ostrich, do the ostrich)