Ssome films attract audiences; buckle it up, make it swallow like a multiplex theater full of foie gras. The oeuvre of Mike Mills it is not like this. Watching his films – gently unobtrusive when it comes to the plot, but rich in emotional texture – can be like a painting in a gallery. You can virtually take nothing with you from the experience if you wish. Or you can dive deep and discover whole worlds in it.
His newest, C’mon C’mon, is perhaps his most pared down yet. The film revolves around an impromptu road trip through America that explores the connection between an uncle, radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman). The film was shot in black and white. It’s an aesthetic choice that adds a subdued melancholy to California’s exuberant, palm-fringed skyline and toned down New Orleans’ carnival-like drama to better draw audiences into the film’s calm heart.
This film is about listening – really listening – to what others have to say. Johnny’s job is to interview children and tap into their hopes and fears for the future. Jesse, an eccentric, lovably weird nine-year-old, refuses to be admitted but delves into the sounds around him. And through a series of nightly phone calls, Johnny and Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), Jesse’s mother, open the lines of communication that were destroyed after their mother’s death.
Appropriately, sound and music are key; the soundtrack is unrestrained and eclectic and ranges from the opera to Lee Scratch Perry to Lou Reed’s pre-Velvets novelty, The Ostrich. But the main perks of the film are three extraordinary performances: Phoenix, wrinkled and emotionally exposed as Johnny; Hoffman, who loves and violently hurts as Viv; and Woody Norman, who put on one of the most notable performances of the year by a child or other person.