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The elevator pitch for C'mon C'mon, writer Mike Mills' beautifully and refreshingly humanist exploration of life through a child's mind, sounds like a cringe-worthy piece of saccharine Oscar-bait: A childless and independent-minded journalist is (Joaquin Phoenix) saddled with his precautious nine-year-old nephew (Woody Norman) while touring the country for work.
At first, the awkward man-child struggles to relate to his nephew, even though his work involves interviewing children his age about their views on life. Eventually, the uncle connects to his inner-child, while the nephew learns the meaning of responsibility. Cue five Oscar nominations and zero wins for the feel-good movie of 1992.
Yet Mills, like a cinematic magician of the highest prowess and stamina, avoids every single temptation for this premise to go horribly wrong, all the while creating the most genuinely touching, levelheaded and introspective drama of 2021. The first step in the film's success stems from the fact that Mills doesn't treat any of his characters like worn-out archetypes.
Every frame sparkles with the kind of authenticity and chemistry that immediately makes the duo at the center of the story instantly relatable. We know these people because, at one point or another in our lives, we were these people, both at nine years old and in our 40s.
While Mills expertly avoids tonal bullets of saccharine shortcuts like that famous shot from The Matrix, he also could have easily fallen into the trap of turning his film into dour and self-important art-house fodder that inadvertently places the filmmaker at the front and center of the audience's consciousness, turning the ordeal into a narcissistic masturbation session by the director.
Yes, C'mon C'mon is in black and white, and has long, static shots of characters contemplating their choices in life. But it's in the narrative execution of how they came to those choices, and why it's imperative for them to reevaluate them, that matters.
Through such a tenderly balanced approach to his story and characters, backed by the impeccable chemistry between Phoenix and Norman, the film shines above the possible trappings that must have been haunting it through every aspect of the production.
Usually, modern films that adopt black and white cinematography emphasize the stark contrast between the whites and blacks that the look inspires. C'mon C'mon goes for a softer and more peaceful look that gently blends the two colors into a gorgeous experiment in subtle grays, which emphasizes the film's morally and spiritually neutral stance. The 1080p transfer showcases this quality with utmost precision and clarity.
C'mon C'mon is a dialogue-based character study, for the most part, so don't expect much surround presence from the DTS-HD 5.1 track. The serene and minimalistic score, which perfectly fits the film's tone, creates a peaceful ambiance across the audio spectrum when it enters the soundtrack.
Audio Commentary by Mike Mills: Mills is very gentle and loving when talking so passionately about his film, the greatest achievement in his career so far.
Making of: This 8-minute featurette is basically a brief EPK with interviews with Mills and the cast. It's cute, but such a great drama needed a longer look into the production.
C'mon C'mon's fictional story is often intercut with actual interviews done with actual children, as part of the fictional Phoenix character's work within the story. The immersive and genuine nature of the film is buried within these sections. They're real, profound, and silly, the way a child is supposed to be, and this is the perfect film to build the bridge between reality and fiction.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com