Being reel: Why the originality of ‘C’mon C’mon’ deserved more recognition

A man and a child look at a notebook together.
“C’mon C’mon” is an A24 indie film writted and directed by Mike Mills that was released in 2021. (Courtesy: Tobin Yelland)

When A24 announced last year that Joaquin Phoenix would star in its new feature indie film “C’mon C’mon,” I was excited. I hoped that this might be the 2022 equivalent of “Lady Bird” — a charming yet emotional coming of age movie that channeled current indie film aesthetics. The trailer featured Phoenix speaking to child actor Woody Norman in hushed tones with a flute playing “Claire de Lune” in the background. I sat next to a good friend of mine in a movie theater when I saw this trailer for the first time, and he said, “I’m crying already.”

This film, which exceeded my “Lady Bird”-defined expectations, is a touching story about a documentarian uncle (Phoenix), who cares for his nephew by taking him around the United States while the child’s mother takes care of his estranged, bipolar-affected father. It was my favorite film of last year. 

“C’mon C’mon” definitely is a movie that tugs on your heartstrings. I watched it on Prime Video with my mother over winter break and we paused it multiple times because it inspired heartfelt conversations about my upbringing. But this film doesn’t only look inward at family dynamics. One of the beautiful things this film accomplishes — much like last year’s Best Picture winner “Nomadland” — is it combines documentary and fiction together. 

A key aspect of this film’s screenplay and action is the real documentary-style interviews conducted throughout with kids around the country regarding what they think about the future. Some kids bring up their concerns about the environment and others bring up social issues like racial inequality. These interviews mean that at its core, the film is honest and earnest, seen through its inclusion of the lexical stumbles common for young kids. These are feelings that were lacking in the film that won, “Belfast,” which at times felt too highly choreographed to not be just a product of a Hollywood studio.

This movie had all the ingredients of an Oscar movie. Joaquin Phoenix and Gabby Hoffman are known actors (with Phoenix recently winning Best Actor for his role as the Joker in “Joker”) and Woody Norman — despite his very young age — arguably belonged in this year’s Best Supporting Actor’s race. Mike Mills, the writer-director, has a previous nomination for Best Original Screenplay. There was precedent here for a nomination, even by the Academy’s standards — and yet, no nomination.

The reason that this feels like a grave mistake by the Academy, especially after reflecting on the chaotic Oscars from two weeks ago, is because of how weak the category of Best Original Screenplay was this year. The nominees included a drab biopic of Richard Williams, a sweet but slightly Woody Allen-esque rendering of the millennial experience, a two-and-a-half hour long nostalgia trip through the 70s that caused a lot of controversy, a self-righteous mess of Trump-era comedy, and the winner: a cheesy (in the derogatory sense) and oversimplified political drama told through the eyes of a young Irish child.

It is undeniably limiting to assess a film’s merit based on if it got a place in the Oscar nomination pool. I will be the first to advocate for this film’s quality outside of the award show world, but I am also fully aware that award show nominations and wins create buzz around the film and let it reach more audiences and allows the creatives to get more funding. 

“C’mon C’mon” is in many ways a film about how making art is difficult, especially when there are so many other moving parts to life. The characters in this movie often struggle with choosing between their careers and the children that need care in front of them. As much as it might seem like an obvious choice to choose the child, when the career is based on something people consume, the creative job also is what is providing for the child, making the trade-off more difficult. it becomes hard not to see the need to take care of the child as an inherent aspect of doing what is needed creatively to get money.

This film, then, might have been too critical of the culture industry that is currently more interested in “content” production than it is original work — perhaps explaining its lack of Oscar nomination. But that is also the same reason why “C’mon C’mon” deserved to get its flowers. People are starving for original content, especially when the biggest blockbusters we can look forward to each year is a new Marvel movie or “Star Wars” installation.

“C’mon C’mon” represented not only a desire to tell a story of the future in the way that children see it, but a story of what we should aspire to out of our American movie industry. If the Oscars do not want to award that, then we, as consumers and — first and foremost — appreciators of the arts, should do the work to acknowledge the beauty in what was created.

Adam Osman-Krinsky PO ’25 is from New York City. He loves movies and logs all his most recent watches on his letterboxd @Adam0k and is currently looking for a new alter ego.

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