C’mon C’mon review – tender and loving

By Marc Miller
Published: December 7, 2021 (Last updated: January 20, 2024)


A tender and loving drama, C’mon C’mon is Mike Mills’s best film and has a performance by Gaby Hoffman that deserves more critical praise.

This review of the film C’mon C’mon does not contain spoilers.

Mike Mills’s latest film, a dive into family ties that bind, is his most compelling. A director who has spent most of his career directing a little bit of everything, he has a long history behind the camera directing music videos for Air, Blonder Redhead, and The National. Even commercials for Gap, Mastercard, and Nike. He has helmed several critical hits since his feature film debut, Thumbsucker. His latest has the freedom to delicately explore themes of mental health and arrested development with loving and tender care.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a traveling radio journalist. He travels across the country interviewing teenagers on their thoughts on the future. He has no wife, no kids, or family to speak of except his estranged sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffman). They haven’t talked in over a year. They had a riff over the long battle their mother fought with dementia. During a moment of loneliness in a hotel room in Detroit, he reconnects with her by giving her a call.

She takes the opportunity to cash in on a favor. Will Johnny fly out to Los Angeles to help her ex-husband, Paul (played by Scoot McNairy), settle in his new home where he has located a job in Oakland? The reason for the divorce was his mental illness. He suffers from the condition of Bipolar disorder. It has become uncontrolled because he refused to stick to his medication regimen. He has extreme highs, lows, and scattered bouts of sleepless nights. So Johnny takes care of his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman).

Mills also wrote the script for C’mon C’mon. His film works not only because of young Jesse’s curious nature. He begins to test boundaries, but a new father figure has missed his life. This is also paired with Jesse strengthening his sense of autonomy. But Jesse isn’t the only one curious about life, but Phoenix’s Johnny as well. He explores a parental side that’s been missing for his adult life. It’s a stunning performance from Phoenix, exploring the role of a parental figure of tenderhearted peculiarity. He saw what it was like to have a loving parent as the receiver by his mother’s end, but never as rewarding as the giver.

While most of the credit will go to Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman deserves praise as the heart and stable rock of the family. She not only offers this to her ex-husband and son but Johnny as well. She is the stoic rock of the group, as Mills flashes back between scenes with Jesse, her mother, and her emotionally unregulated Paul. Hoffman has quite a range of subtle, emotional moments. Whether showing stable support of an older sibling, an enduring love that can never be broken for her child, or extraordinary empathy for a loved one with mental health problems. The veteran actress has not received the credit she deserves for this role.

Still, C’mon C’mon suffers from never having a big, bold, emotional moment, but several low-key contemplative ones. I would have liked Mills to explore mental health aspects of the child since bipolar is hereditary in 80% of most cases. For example, if Jesse’s sleepless nights were not just a night with a sugar high. It happened many times and he showed no signs of being tired. That realization or nod would have given Mills’s script the power it needed.

You cannot argue C’mon C’mon is Mills’s best film to date. The film’s strength is the chemistry between Phoenix and Norman’s Jesse that isn’t sensationalized or trip into a trope of how the parent is not teaching the child, but the other way around. A tender and loving exercise in seeking out connections and strengthening bonds in life.

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