As with his past features Beginners and 20th Century Women, writer-director Mike Mills focused his latest effort, C’mon C’mon, on family—this time honing in not on his relationship with his father or mother, but instead on that between an adult and a child.
“The story, the heart of it came from me having a kid, and living with my kid, and experiencing the world with them,” Mills said Sunday during Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles even, “and having someone need you so fully. It’s so intimate, being a parent.”
In the A24 pic, Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist whose latest project has him interviewing children across the U.S. about the state of affairs in the world. Johnny forges a tenuous but transformational relationship with his 8-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman)—the son of his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann)—when he winds up taking on his travels from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans.
Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster and Jaboukie Young-White also star in the film, produced by Chelsea Barnard, Andrea Longacre-White and Lila Yacoub. Rachel Jensen and Geoff Linville served as co-producers.
Norman joined Mills and Deadline’s Justin Kroll for the panel onstage at the DGA Theater, noting that even if he was just 10 or 11 years old while working on the film, he wasn’t all that intimated by going head to head with Oscar winner Phoenix. “We just kind of talked in between takes. There was never any awkwardness,” he said. “We just got along and talked, and would always be able to improvise in the scene.”
Mills subsequently noted, in earnest, that Norman is no typical child actor. “His soul and spirit is really something quite different and deep,” he said. “He’s doing the exact same labor and work that all the adults in the film are.”
The filmmaker also touched on his casting of Hoffmann, who he’d long admired for “unpredictable” and “anti-cliché” qualities he perceived in her work—noting that she is in some ways “the heart of the story,” despite the fact that she’s often sequestered in scenes by herself.
From the perspective of Norman, C’mon C’mon is instructive, in terms of how adults should interact with the children in their orbit. “Talk to us like we’re humans. Don’t talk to us like were animals or dogs or stuff, because we’re not,” he said. “Don’t think you need to talk down to us, because we notice when you do that.”
C’mon C’mon had its world premiere at Telluride in September. A24 will release the film in theaters across North America on November 19.
Check out the panel video above.
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