How Joaquin Phoenix Handles Parenting in ‘C’mon C’mon’| Anatomy of a Scene

A radio journalist becomes a de facto parent in “C’mon C’mon,” the latest feature from the writer-director Mike Mills.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Johnny, a single man who is tasked with caring for his nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), while his sister deals with pressing family matters. The childless Johnny is plunged into handling some of the crises, large and small, that come with taking care of a boy. Like, in this scene, what to do when the kid has had too much sugar before bedtime and won’t go to sleep.

Mills combines two moments in the sequence: how Johnny handles the moment that night juxtaposed with him recalling the moment in a self-recorded confessional. The sequence includes some topics Jesse brings up that throws Johnny for a loop, like mentioning he heard his mother got an abortion.

In an interview, Mills said he wanted to peel back more layers to the relationship between these two as they got to know each other better. And he wanted to capture how to express deeper thoughts to a child.
“This thing that often happens to me as a parent,” he said, is “you’re trying to share something intense and compelling with the kid. And you just feel like you’ve failed. You just feel like you did not do a good job of showing up or articulating something. And actually, this young little person has judo-flipped you in like three different ways and you’re just sort of knocked out by the end.”

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