So I saw «C’ome on C’ome on” by Mike Mills. And it reminds me of «Frances Ha» combined with «Captain Fantastic» and «Marriage Story» because it’s a pastiche of the black-and-white aesthetic of the first, the utopian creativity and bipolar disorder of the second and the jazzy or classical tunes of the first and last. In front of this kind of American indie films I can’t help but being critical and that implies judging it by the standards set by canonic works of arts from Jarmush, Gus van Sant and Noah Baumbach, to name only three.
What does graphic designer, former commercial DOP, documentary filmmaker/artist Mike Mills do in «C’ome on C’ome on» distributed in the US by A24 if not copy the style of others? Is there more to this indie aesthetic and the punchline “boy and sexy uncle spend time together and travel the US from coast to coast”?
Being critical doesn’t mean having lost all sense of appreciation for a new film that resembles others. It comes with a certain frustration or as we say in french being “blasé”. Having said that I can easily look beyond the very conventional « indie » mise en scène Mills opted for by quoting Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig) and shrug: “This apartment is too aware of itself”
The main difference to Frances Ha is that the central character isn’t a wannabe dancer in her late twenties but a nine-year-old boy called Jesse, who’s mother Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) has to take care of his dad Paul (Scoot McNairy) because he is suffering of bipolar disorder. In this hard times the one chosen to look after Jesse (Woody Norman) is Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), Viv’s brother.
So instead of having to watch a couple in the midst of a divorce with some cute flash-backs and love letter readings like in «Marriage Story» (trailer below) it’s more about a peculiar uncle and his not less peculiar nephew spending time at the beach in LA, later embarking on a journey to NYC and New Orleans. Every now and then Viv calls from Oakland or San Francisco, where Paul lives. Of course there is a LA vs. NYC topic in the film, a bit like in «Marriage Story». Johnny even has Jesse admit that recording surrounding sounds in NYC is more interesting than in LA. This widespread comparison reflects the economic power of the two main US cities. Frances Ha instead dreams and travels outside the US, to Paris to be precise. And it’s not a secret that all the cities mentioned above are important in regards to their film industry.
Let’s be a bit nice, allright I admit: the Jesse we discover in «C’mon C’mon» is a real cutie and his somewhat clumsy but very handsome uncle makes us smile quite a bit too. Jesse never misses a chance to say a weird thing. He want to play the “orphan” and his favorite game is to pretend the kids of his counterpart died.
Jonny’s favorite activity instead seems to be the interview situation. As a reporter it’s part of his job but it has left traces on his daily interactions. As he tries to interrogate Jesse, his nephew answers “I don’t wanna do the question thing”. The witty boy thus avoids being one of the kids Johnny interviews about their dreams and concerns about current and future living conditions in the US. Jesse becomes part of the reporting team and in the end he struggles with going back to the West Coast, where he expects his mom to be sad because his dad is unwell.
The story is touching. We have empathy for Jesse and we can observe the cracks in the facade of a very talkative boy trying to deal with a difficult situation and continuously claiming to be “fine”.
In retrospect the film is not a waste of your time but be prepared that it isn’t a «Down by Law» or «Stranger than Paradise» indie but more in the league of Baumbach’s recent works like «Frances Ha» or «Marriage Story» .