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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Mike Mills
prd Chelsea Barnard, Andrea Longacre-White, Lila Yacoub
with Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, Deborah Strang, Sunni Patterson, Jenny Eliscu, Mary Passeri, Brandon Rush, Brey'on Shaw
release US 19.Nov.21,
21/US A24 1h48
Is it streaming?
There's a refreshing looseness to this comedy-drama, which centres on a transformative relationship between a man and his young nephew. Without pushing the themes, writer-director Mike Mills simply lets the characters be themselves, provoking each other in their own specific ways. Shot in gimmicky but striking black and white, much of the film feels improvised and raw, and it asks the viewer to think about some very big issues.
Travelling around America, Johnny (Phoenix) and his crew (Webster and Young-White) record audio interviews with children, capturing their thoughts about the future. Since their mother's death, Johnny speaks regularly with his sister Viv (Hoffmann) in Los Angeles, and when she needs to help her ex-husband Paul (McNairy), Johnny moves in to take care of her bright and very energetic 9-year-old son Jesse (Norman). As Viv is delayed, Johnny takes Jesse home to New York with him to continue work on his recording project. And even as they clash, Johnny and Jesse discover a powerful bond.
Generational differences mean that Johnny has been taught to hide his emotions, while Jesse is encouraged to express them. And both have big feelings, as Johnny is still reeling from the breakdown of his marriage while Jesse struggles with his father's mental illness issues. Pointedly, Jesse has no time for banal sentiment, meeting Johnny's earnestness with "blah blah blah". This cuts through the usual false insights most movies present, instead affirming life's complexity: no one knows what they're doing, but they have to keep doing it.
Phoenix is unusually relaxed, matching the film's meandering pace while infusing scenes with humour, warmth and the sense that Johnny is genuinely surprised by this precocious child. Norman is flat-out terrific as the alert, busy Jesse, finding moments of hilarity amid laser-focussed observations. The connection between them is powerfully textured, as is Johnny's relationship with Viv, played superbly by the offhanded Hoffmann. And flickering flashbacks deepen the resonance.
Because the dialog is so intimate, the themes touch a nerve. The title comes from Jesse's comment about how impossible it is to plan your life because other things just happen, and "you just have to c'mon c'mon". There are vivid notes about loving someone even when they drive you nuts, accepting that you can never know everything about them. And Johnny's work beautifully validates thoughts and feelings of children about adults, justice and the reality that true change seems unlikely. But hope remains. In other words: the world is a mess, and yet it still makes sense.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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