C’mon C’mon review – Joaquin Phoenix and young co-star look amazing in road trip drama | Drama films

Ssome films attract audiences; tie it up, force it to binge, like a multiplex full of goose with foie gras. Mike Mills’ work is not like that. Watching his films – gently subdued when it comes to plot but rich in emotional texture – can be like looking at a painting in a gallery. You can, if you wish, opt out with virtually nothing from the experience. Or you can dig deeper and discover whole worlds within.

His last, go! Go on, is perhaps his most stripped down to date. Centered on an impromptu road trip across America that explores the bond between an uncle, radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman), the film is shot in black and white. It’s an aesthetic move that brings a muffled melancholy to the exuberant, palm-strewn horizon of California, and tone down the carnival drama of New Orleans, the better to draw audiences into the film’s tranquil heart.

It’s a film about listening – really listening – to what others have to say. Johnny’s job is to interview children, to tap into their hopes and fears for the future. Jesse, an eccentric and endearing nine-year-old, refuses to be recorded but immerses himself in the sounds around him. And through a series of late-night phone calls, Johnny and Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), Jesse’s mother, reopen the lines of communication that were cut after their mother died.

Appropriately, sound and music are essential; the soundtrack is uninhibited and eclectic, ranging from opera to Lee Scratch Perry to Lou Reed’s pre-Velvets novelty track The Ostrich. But the film’s main strengths are three extraordinary performances: Phoenix, crumpled and emotionally distraught as Johnny; Hoffman, fiercely loving and hurtful like Viv; and Woody Norman, delivering one of the most outstanding performances, by a child or not, of the year.

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