Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffman, and Scoot McNairy.
Directed By: Mike Mills
Where I Watched It: Apple VOD
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: A radio journalist (Phoenix) is asked to look after his nephew (Norman) for a short period of time, and the two explore other parts of America together, as well as each other’s thoughts.
What Works: A film like this always hinges on just how good the child actor is. And, I’m proud to report that Woody Norman is exceptional. I don’t think I’ve seen a performance this good in a movie since Jacob Tremblay in Room. The film hinges entirely on Norman’s emotional vulnerability and believability as Jesse, a nine year old who has a lot of complex emotions that his uncle can only begin to understand.
And the uncle is masterfully played by Joaquin Phoenix, who i can only assume was robbed of a nomination because people aren’t used to seeing him play rather normal people, and not over the top unhinged characters. Whether it be his performances in Gladiator, The master, or Joker, the Oscars love him when he’s big and loud, but when he offers a really warm, heartfelt, honest performance, its easier to forget him. Which is a shame, because he’s fantastic here in a very different way than what we’re used to seeing from him.
I kept thinking, what an interesting casting decision to have Phoenix playing this role where the majority of his scenes are these really connected moments with a nine year old. And there’s no bravado to his performance, it’s just reactionary, empathetic, and incredibly human in the best of ways. It almost seems like a stretch for Phoenix as an actor, because he so usually goes big, and that’s what made me love this even more.
The script, by mike mills, takes a minute to really come alive, as many of his scripts do. He is often a very honest filmmaker, making films that feel like they aren’t even really movies at all, but rather just a glimpse into a rather normal life. Because of that, there isn’t really that opening catalyst, nor is he willing to give you a grandiose setup to keep you watching. He just is invested in these characters for the long haul, and believes you paid for the duration of the film, so you can be on the same journey. It’s only through the developing richness of these characters, Johnny and Jesse, that the film grows its emotional core, and the only way to get there is by living with these characters for a bit.
An investment well worth it.
What Doesn’t Work: The sound design here. It’s so oddly balanced. I found myself straining at times to hear dialogue, but I couldn’t turn up my sound any louder because the English audio description track was blaring. Then, at other times, when they are in a city, and they incorporate the noise of the world around them, the film is aggressively loud, and it actually surpasses the audio description. I really loved this film, but the sound mixing here is atrocious, and that could honestly just be a transfer to home media format versus what you get in theatres. That is all irrelevant now, as I don’t think this is still playing anywhere. If it is, the location count is really low. It’s an Oscar bait film that managed no nominations, was released in December, and it’s now the end of February. So I feel confident that this isn’t playing in more than 5 locations, if any.
So anyone watching this from now on will have to deal with this oddly mixed film. Just a point, not something that will end up affecting my final grade. It was just annoying.
The Blind Perspective: As I listed above, the balance is off. Most of the time, the description is much louder than the film, though there are times when the description gets wiped out by city street noises like roaring trains in theNew York.
Final Thoughts: I already took a look, and this slid into my top 10 films from last year. These are the kind of films I wish had massive Oscar campaigns. Sometimes, I feel like films get nominated just because they have weight being thrown behind them, and not because they deserve to be there. C’Mon C’Mon is such an endearing film amidst a wave of dark Oscar bait films that it would have been nice to see this recognized alongside Coda. On a side note, the fact that this film is rated R is obnoxious. We really have to start looking at the totality of a movie, thematic elements, and not just some dude in a room counting how many times the actors say “Fuck”. Which in this film is almost none, until one scene where it is used a lot. That’s the only reason this film is rated R.
Final Grade: A