Joaquin Phoenix drama C'mon C'mon 'a bittersweet and life-affirming picture'

C'mon C'mon: Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny and Woody Norman as Jesse
Damon Smith

C'MON C'MON (15, 109 mins) Drama. Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, Scoot McNairy. Director: Mike Mills.

Released: December 3

WHEN comedian and actor WC Fields reportedly coined the showbusiness mantra to never work with children or animals, he clearly wasn't referring to 12-year-old British actor Woody Norman.

The cherubic wunderkind sports a flawless American accent and merrily scene-steals from Joaquin Phoenix in writer-director Mike Mills' bittersweet and life-affirming picture, which explores the bond between a radio producer and his precocious nephew.

Shot in lustrous black and white (a stylistic choice in vogue this year), C'mon C'mon charms and breaks our hearts through delicately staged conversations between the characters, which have the casual flow of documentary film-making rather than scripted drama.

That naturalistic vibe is enforced by footage of Phoenix's protagonist interviewing real children from different cities across America about their feelings and fears. Each non-scripted yet heartfelt train of thought is captured in close-up as the Oscar winner brandishes a microphone and listens intently through his headphones.

The children's articulate and occasionally humorous insights are tinged with hope. Out of the mouths of babes come simple, unvarnished truths.

Charming chemistry with Norman galvanises every scene, whether the two actors are playfighting, riffing off each other or digging deep into the emotional wounds of a boy who has lost a positive male role model in his life to a mental health crisis.

Mills maintains a slow, steady pace that allows on-screen camaraderie to develop or fray realistically while we silently reflect and shed a tear on our own wonder years.

New York-based audio producer Johnny (Phoenix) is in Detroit, interviewing young people with colleagues Roxanne (Molly Webster) and Fernando (Jaboukie Young-White), when he receives an urgent telephone call from his estranged sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann).

She implores Johnny to travel to Los Angeles to take care of her nine-year-old son Jesse (Norman) for a couple of weeks while she supports her ex-husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) as he contends with bipolar disorder.

Unprepared for temporary guardianship, Johnny muddles through each day with Jesse, allowing the inquisitive tyke to use his microphone and recording equipment to capture the cacophony of a city in motion.

When Paul's mental state worsens, Johnny agrees to take his nephew on the road to New Orleans for more radio interviews and the bond with Jesse deepens.

Meanwhile, a mentally and physically exhausted Viv makes regular phone calls to Johnny to track her boy's progress.

"I just want Jesse to have his dad," she quietly confides.

C'mon C'mon is a delicate study of the complexities of youth, reflected in tiny moments between Johnny and Jesse as they seek a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other.

Every minute of Mills' film is heartbreakingly beautiful and precious. This boy's life is truly wondrous.

Rating: 4/5

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