Anthony Pantalone, Staff
Everyone wants to feel seen. Everyone wants to feel understood. I don’t think it would be an over-exaggeration to say that a great struggle of life is finding others who truly understand you and truly understanding them in return. Thoughts. Nuanced emotions. Experiences. It’s impossible to fully know anyone and their individualized perception of the world. Every person is left to simply try their absolute best to understand the people in their lives. I like to think that the filmography of Mike Mills intends to at least address and explore this universal struggle and the stresses that result from the “gray spaces” in all human connections. Mills’ writing of characters is always uniquely full of both love and empathy in comparison to many other filmmakers though.
“C’mon C’mon” is Mike Mills’ newest film offering for audiences coming off his prior successes — 2016’s “20th Century Women” and 2010’s “Beginners” — and follows a radio journalist, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker,” “The Master,”) who must care for his nephew Jesse during a family emergency. Phoenix’s character Johnny in his profession as a journalist interviews children across the country regarding their hopes for the future and outlook on life. Johnny is forced to process and mend his own strenuous relationships with his sister and gain perspective on parenthood. Spanning from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans, Johnny looks after his nephew Jesse while continuing his career and understanding more and more how special his own nephew’s perspective of the world is. Acting as a parent can be incredibly challenging, but the protagonist very emphatically cares about his nephew and is able to forge a strong meaningful bond.
Mills as a visual filmmaker
With a previous background in graphic art and design, Mills is an auteur that understands the importance of film as a visual medium. His films are always framed well and simply just look good. When speaking to music legend and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, this writer-director talked about how the basis for what “C’mon C’mon” would look like came from this idea of a parent and child walking in space. Many scenes in the movie include this type of shot—whether Johnny and Jesse are walking on a beach in Santa Monica, a busy urban street in New York City, or under a Southern Live Oak tree in Louisiana. Cinematography has played a major role in Mills’ prior films, and “C’mon C’mon” is no exception. Black and white cinematography was used to draw out more sense of the scene and authenticity of the relationships onscreen without the distraction of color for viewers — a feat that Mills achieves with flying colors.
Writing personal connections
A major aspect of Mills’ directorial features has been his incredibly personal connection to each work. “C’mon C’mon” is about this filmmaker’s relationship to his son. “20th Century Women” is primarily based on his mother and his struggle to truly know and understand her in their relationship as mother and son. “Beginners” was written about Mills’ father and his own struggle to know and understand his dad through their relationship as parent and child. Writing about real people, personally, feels somewhat gross and exploitative, but the manner by which Mills always does so is with compassion and love. He does not try to sculpt an image of this person from his life and present them to the audience as he experienced them. Mills instead deftly offers that each individual person is more complex to a degree that is not humanly comprehendible. Each movie is about the struggle and experience of trying to know that person and the profound effect it has had on Mills.