I traffic in hope without the ability to know what will happen in the future.“An Incomplete List of What The Cameraperson Enables” by Kirsten Johnson
In one of several similar sequences throughout the runtime of Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny recites this piece from Kirsten Johnson. In Johnson’s Cameraperson (2016), she displays the moments between space, quiet existence outside of what we typically desire to film and depict. The end result is a sharply evocative portrait of hope, showcasing the everlasting growth of humanity through these moments of liminal sincerity. C’mon C’mon pursues a similar humanistic growth through other avenues, constantly chasing a blossoming cinematic revelation as it seems to evolve along with the viewer through its disjointed, desaturated composition. It is a picture of hope framed by the young, the still forming minds brimming with endless optimism for a brighter future.
As the film traverses the country it shines as much warmly framed love upon the cities it visits as the people it encounters, always an eager framing to include the infinitely hopeful skies, emanating an inviting blue even through the gray tones of the screen. The intercut footage of open, sprawling cityscapes and intimately framed interviews positions our societal growth alongside our ability to connect with each other. Cities glistening with hope as we listen to the ambitions of the children who inhabit them. They see only brightness on the horizon while their elders’ eyes become clouded by troubled pasts and hazy futures. They envision a world in which barriers are broken, failing systems are torn down, a world where they are given as much respect as they are regularly asked to give to others. They envision their cities as the best versions of themselves, as havens for immigrants or sources of rich cultural history. In a world that feels increasingly claustrophobic and hopeless, nothing is more warming than the knowledge that someone out there still has faith that we can make things better.
It may seem trite for your film’s central conceit to be that the beaming eyes of children are our future, yet Mills makes the familiar feel fresh, a reminder that though we may persistently reiterate these notions of the importance of youth’s vibrance, it is often not reflected in our actions or our cultural milieu. It may be as twee and saccharine as could possibly be expected from its external presentation, a comforting indie drama starring Joaquin Phoenix presented in a soft grayscale, but Mills’ abounding empathy seems to transcend its expectations, a heartfelt honesty resounding from its core that pushes it into a space beyond something purely simple and sweet.
While the interspersed interviews lend a weight to everything, the continued adventures of Johnny and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) draw the film’s gentle borders, a relationship defined by a growth and understanding of two people, a case study in the relationship between us and the little ones we’re tasked with nurturing. There are many profound moments of striking sweetness between the scruffy Johnny and his nephew, but the more defined moments seem to fade into the background behind its moments of aural cacophony. On their first morning spent together, Johnny approaches Jesse as if he were another interview subject, but Jesse rejects the notion of a traditional interview in favor of his piqued curiosity at the recording technology itself. Johnny offers him his headphones and a new world seems to open up for Jesse, a new lens with which to view things, a passionate lens that Johnny is eager to share with him.
Whether it’s sauntering down the beach, standing beneath a bustling bridge, or watching the skaters at the park, Jesse falls in love with the act of pointing the microphone, aiming to capture the mundane beauty of everyday life. When Johnny eloquently attempts to explain why the act of recording means so much to him, Jesse carries on, blissfully unaware, still pointing his microphone meekly towards the rhythmic clanging of the Manhattan Bridge. There’s no grand purpose, no illusion in his mind that there is a lasting longevity or reason to his recordings. It’s pure discovery, a quality that we as people seem to struggle to return to as we become consumed with a desire for specificity and meaning.
If Cameraperson is the broad and operatic ode to life’s liminal beauty through one person discovering the world, C’mon C’mon is the peaceful and tender dedication to life’s liminal beauty through two people discovering each other, through our relationships to the ones we love. This is simple, impressionistic honesty within the purity of just living, being alive and making it through each day, coming out the other side changed by your experiences and interactions, no matter how small. We walk, we stumble, we smile, we cry. All we need is someone to remind us how important it all is.