By: Amanda Guarragi
Over the past couple of years, the world has changed drastically. It has affected all of us and many adults have attempted to change our society and our planet, but no one is even asking how it’s affecting younger kids. We have been conditioned to look at children and teenagers as not being fully developed mentally. How could they possibly understand what is going on, when they haven’t even experienced life yet? In C’mon C’mon, Mike Mills explores the mental state of young children and their perspective on life.
We meet Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) who is an emotionally stunted and soft-spoken radio journalist. He travels the country interviewing a variety of kids about their thoughts concerning their world and their future. Johnny then takes on the responsibility of caring for his young nephew Jesse (Woody Norman). Jesse brings a new perspective and, as they travel from state to state, effectively turns the emotional tables on Johnny. The entire film is dependent on their dynamic and we see a budding friendship develop into something beautiful.
As Johnny reconnects with Jesse, he learns more about himself in that short period of time. Mike Mills integrated the interviews from other children with Jesse’s behaviour in order to show the difference in expressing oneself. Jesse internalized his feelings about everything and he would express it in very obscure ways, to the point where his mother Viv (Gaby Hoffman) had to research how to approach her son. We see that Jesse has been through a lot with his parents and he has trouble understanding his feelings on an emotional level causing him to lash out in different ways.
What Mike Mills educates audiences on is how we can all become emotionally mature if we all help each other. How can we, as humans, become more mindful of our neighbour? What questions can we ask? How can we conduct ourselves? It is an interesting dynamic because you have an adult in Johnny, who expresses himself through his work, but bottles up his past without fully healing. Then with Jesse, there is no filter when he is asking hard hitting, personal questions, but he closes himself off the second someone questions him. Jesse and Johnny learn to trust each other and it’s more than a standard uncle and nephew connection, that bond was formed through an emotional understanding.
Not only does Mills weave the importance of these radio interviews with Jesse and Johnny’s journey with each other, but the film’s structure elevated their characters in a unique way. As the film went on, there were important book titles that accurately depicted past struggles in order to give a bit of backstory. Mills showed Viv’s relationship with her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy), Johnny’s relationship with Viv and their mother, and lastly Jesse’s relationship with his parents. All of this was shown while one of the books highlighted was being read aloud. There is the expression of the emotional and behavioural aspects through the dialogue that helps the visuals in the flashbacks.
Mills created a very intimate story between a nephew and his uncle, while diving into larger topics to show how other children are thinking. It is a wonderful piece of writing that explores the nature of our society and how children are conditioned to stay quiet because they don’t know what’s best for them. Instead of controlling them, which is also stunting their mental and emotional growth, they should have room to feel everything and understand their emotions in a healthy way. Jesse is the central focus of all of this and we see that Johnny changes his outlook.
C’mon C’mon is beautifully made and one of the most introspective films of the year. Mills presents mental health and healing through important conversations. More importantly, this film is special because of the importance placed on how children can be affected by the decisions adults make. Hopefully this film will give adults more insight in how to approach children in actually having these large-scale conversations about the world because they are fully aware of what is happening around them. Adults just need to give them the chance to express themselves and maybe society, and our world, will change.