by Rob DiCristino
C’mon, C’mon (Dir. Mike Mills)
Every Oscar season features a movie like C’mon, C’mon, the new drama from 20th Century Women’s Mike Mills. Every Oscar season features a leading role like Jaoquin Phoenix’s Johnny, a middle-aged journalist who travels the country interviewing young people about their hopes, dreams, and fears for the future. Every Oscar season features a precocious “kid” role like Woody Norman’s Jesse, the troubled nephew tagging along on one of Uncle Johnny’s cross-country sojourns in order to escape the domestic chaos that haunts him and his mother (Gaby Hoffmann as Viv) every day. Every Oscar season features a prestige indie label (in this case, A24) looking to cement itself among the new Hollywood cannon. Every Oscar season features a story about connection — real, true, intimate connection — that purports to challenge the conventions of cinema and warm the hearts of even the coldest and most cynical Eligible Voter. If I sound a bit dismissive of C’mon C’mon, it’s only because I am. It’s too easy for the talents involved. Too self-satisfied. We can do better.
But C’mon C’mon dooms itself in its initial premise, as Johnny is by far the least interesting character of the bunch. By centering the narrative around his journey, Mills has taken the path most traveled, the most unimaginative and navel-gazing approach possible. Perhaps it’s age — as our own J.B. is wont to say, I am finding myself wandering helplessly into my dotage — but watching mediocre adult men demonstrate minimum emotional efficacy just doesn’t hit the same as it did in my youth. Johnny never earns our sympathy, not through stories of lost love or flashbacks to his clashes with Viv over the care of their late mother. Instead, we’re asked to watch, enraptured, as he complains to Viv that sugar made Jesse hyper or that the small child said something that hurt his feelings. “Grow up!” we shout into the pretentious, black-and-white void. “The adults are trying to work!” Still, C’mon, C’mon is sure to inspire those who need a little late-life push, and my own revulsion at its simplistic execution shouldn't drive away those in need of a dose of humanistic sweetness.
The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)
As Campion guides us through the film’s chapters, each more tense and unnerving than the last, we see newer and more interesting layers from Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor many of us first got to know as BBC’s Sherlock. His cold and enigmatic demeanor suited that role perfectly — he even imbues Conan Doyle’s immortal sleuth with a bit of longing sensuality — but Cumberbatch has since lumbered from one historical drama to the next, alternating between stuffy Brits and Mystic Arts masters. But The Power of the Dog finally feels like his moment: Phil’s bitterness, his profound unwillingness to confront the demons that are eating him alive, gives Cumberbatch ample room to play. As George and Peter look on in horror, Phil thoroughly and ruthlessly dismantles any and all hopes Rose may have had for a happy life. One especially painful scene finds Rose struggling behind the piano while Phil mockingly mirrors her — with considerably more precision — on the banjo. It’s a needling, painful act, one made all the more cutting by Cumberbatch’s reptilian sneer.