To see a Mike Mills film — Thumbsucker, Beginners, 20th Century Women — is to be steeped in a deep pool of empathy. He’s an acutely sensitive director, his works feeling less like didactic authorial statements than loose, open meditations that allow his actors to take the lead and guide him along gently interpersonal journeys. His latest, C’Mon C’Mon, is no different, though Mills focuses his eye this time on the electric, unpredictable relationships between adults and children.
Here, we get something akin to the avuncular, A24 version of the Adam Sandler comedy Big Daddy: a childless thirty-something man (Joaquin Phoenix’s jocular but forlorn Johnny) suddenly thrust into a situation where he must unexpectedly look after a precocious young boy (the spectacular Woody Norman, playing Johnny’s nephew Jesse) with nary an idea of how to do it. His only guide is his sister and the boy’s mother, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), who offers him exasperated guidance while she deals with Jesse’s bipolar father (Scoot McNairy).
What’s more, this responsibility falls in Johnny’s lap in the middle of a project in which he travels across the country interviewing children about their thoughts on the future. But as the two embark on this journey together, Johnny and Jesse gain a deeper understanding of one another, two wounded souls who bond over their inability to articulate their respective emotional needs.
The film is another gentle, observational win from Mills, whose loose, documentary-like approach leans back from showiness and allows its characters to breathe. It’s an emotionally intelligent film about the power of memory, and the unexpected things grownups and children can learn from each other.
The day before the film’s premiere in theaters, Consequence sat down with Mike Mills over Zoom to talk about that central concern — the foggy rift between children and adults — and what it means to him and his role as a parent alongside his partner, fellow indie director Miranda July. This interview has been edited for clarity.