C’mon C’mon

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a man and boy sitting at a table in Cmon Cmon movie

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Paul Asay

Movie Review

Hopes. Dreams. Fears. Superpowers. Parents.

Johnny asks kids questions about all these things and more. The radio journalist travels from city to city, talking with children about their yesterdays and tomorrows and todays, chronicling the voices of our future.

But a voice from the past forces Johnny to push pause.

His sister, Viv, is in crisis. She’s been temporarily separated from her husband, Paul, who’s crumbling under the weight of mental illness and a new job in Oakland. She needs to help him. But she doesn’t want to take her son, 9-year-old Jesse, with her: The trip will be incredibly difficult as it is. And she doesn’t want Jesse to see his father like this.

Johnny and Viv have a pretty difficult relationship themselves. But Johnny sets aside the past and offers to visit for a few days—to watch Jesse while Viv heads north. How hard can caring for a 9-year-old be?

Trick question.

Jesse loves classical music, and he loves it loud. He has a talent for mimicry, and he uses it to bitter effect on the adults in his life. And most nights, Johnny learns, he makes his mother pretend that he’s an orphan, and that everyone in his life is dead.

“They only have bunk beds at the orphanage,” he says to his mom as Johnny watches, dumbfounded. “And all the kids snore.” Luckily, Viv has a spare bedroom with a bed just Jesse’s size.

Oh, and while Johnny doesn’t know it yet, sometimes Jesse just vanishes—behind shelves, around corners, anywhere he can. Perhaps he does it on accident—just wanders away without thinking. Perhaps he hides and does it to be mean. But maybe, he’s just testing those who feed him and tuck him in at night: Do they care for him enough?

Johnny has made a career of kids. He’s asked countless children countless questions. But now, he’s being asked to watch a walking, talking question in Jesse—to connect on a whole new level with a real, live, breathing, demanding, exasperating, inspiring kid.

And it may get him to ask questions of himself he’s never dared ask before.

Positive Elements

Johnny was only supposed to watch Jesse for a couple of days. It’s a pretty big (and impressive) commitment to begin with. But when Paul gets worse and Viv feels the need to stay longer, Johnny and Jesse find themselves thrown together for weeks. He can’t drop his cross-country work, so he takes Jesse with him.

It’s a sacrifice on some level, to be sure. But let’s not kid ourselves: Johnny’s getting as much as he’s giving. As the two become closer, Johnny not only cares more for Jesse—almost as if he was a son, not a nephew—he begins to face up to his own past, too. He grapples with the arguments and fights he had with his sister: Even though they’re physically apart, they draw closer as they talk about Jesse and his peculiar “parenting” challenges over the phone. He acknowledges how much a failed relationship hurt when it failed. When the story comes to a close, we get a sense that Johnny’s a much better person than when he started—and he boasts much stronger relationships with two really critical people in his life.

Viv is a good mom, too. And we see it when she’s forced to be both a wife and a mother to Paul, her deeply troubled husband. He suffers from bipolar disorder, and we hear about how he fights Viv constantly and even sometimes runs away. No matter: Viv is determined to help Paul get the help he needs. And we learn that her care for Paul when his mental health issues first surfaced was one reason for the siblings’ partial estrangement.

The other reason: Both Johnny and Viv cared for their mother as she dealt with dementia. They had different philosophies on how they should deal with it: Johnny wanted to allow his mother to stay in the delusions she sometimes fell into, while Viv was determined to help her mom see reality. But the fact that they were both there—doing the hard work of caring for a not-all-there parent—says something about their character.

Spiritual Elements

Johnny asks a number of kids what they imagine happens after they die. One teen, who says that he and his mother are Baptist, imagines that heaven is like a beautiful field with flowers and a cool breeze, where you can just lie in the grass and look at the sky.

Another wonders, “Why would we be made to just die?” She speculates that there’s something beyond the life that we know.

There’s some talk of holding certain things in your life “sacred.”

Sexual Content

Johnny and Jesse dance in a small New Orleans parade. In the background we can see what looks to be a cross-dresser or two, as well as a woman with an exposed breast. Other participants wear provocative clothing.

Viv apparently told Jesse that she was something of a wild child when she was younger—someone who had her share of boyfriends. That lead, apparently …

Violent Content

… to Viv having an abortion, which Jesse also knows about. He spills this revelation to Johnny, looking for an explanation on why his mother would have one. Johnny sputters an incoherent sentence or two about how we all make choices about our bodies. But he later admits that he never knew Viv had an abortion.

Johnny collapses in the street while carrying Jesse on his shoulders. Jesse is scared, though he won’t admit it. And when Johnny asks him whether he dropped him or not, Jesse says, “I jumped.”

The interviews with the children in the movie represent documentary-like moments: The kids aren’t actors, and they speak honestly about their hopes, dreams and experiences. A few of the children interviewed are growing up in violent environments, and some talk frankly about loss. One of the young boys interviewed—Devante Bryant—was shot and killed this summer. He was 9 years old.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 20 f-words (some of them uttered by a 9-year-old boy) and seven s-words. We also hear “a–,” “d–n,” two misuses of God’s name (one paired with “d–n”) and one abuse of Jesus’ name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None, though we do hear Viv talk about Paul’s medications.

Other Negative Elements

Jesse sometimes lies. And when it appears as though Johnny’s going to send him back to California, he tells Johnny during the taxi ride to the airport that he needs to “poop” and that he can’t hold it. The two duck into a restaurant, but it soon becomes clear that Jesse doesn’t need to use the restroom (we see him just sitting on the toilet, pants still on), and he’s not going to come out.

Jesse also sometimes disappears—scaring Johnny badly.

Conclusion

Though Johnny and Viv have a pretty strained relationship when the movie begins, that breech begins to heal through Jesse. Every night, it seems, Johnny calls Viv or Viv calls Johnny, catching up on what’s new with Jesse. How wonderful he is. How horrible he’s being. How perplexing. How exasperating. How exhilarating.

When Johnny tells Viv that Jesse can be all of those things at once, Viv knows it. She knows that she can feel so much love for Jesse she wants to cry and yet can barely stand to be in the same room with him sometimes. She knows how loving Jesse can be, and how cruel he can be, too. She knows that, even though she and Johnny are adults, Jesse can still devastate them with a word, a glance.

“Nobody knows what they’re doing with these kids,” Viv says. “You just have to keep doing it.”

We at Plugged In—a ministry of Focus on the Family, after all—would take issue with that first statement, of course. If you’re uncertain or confused about how to handle any parenting issue, be it bedwetting to transgenderism, we’ve got information to help you cope.

But when it comes to parenting, I sometimes go back to an old Woody Allen cliché about work.

Ninety percent of success is just showing up.

That’s what parents—good parents—do. They show up.

We don’t always do the right thing or say the right thing. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we inadvertently contribute to our children’s future counseling bills, despite our best intentions.

But to show up—to be there to answer your kid’s endless questions, to dry tears, to patch knees, to read bedtime stories, to play videogames, to attend painful orchestra performances, to watch your child hit home runs and strike out and sometimes just sit on the bench—that’s so critical, so crucial.

To show up sends a message: that your child is worth your time.

That’s the good side of C’mon C’mon—or, at least, one good side. Both Viv and Johnny (in his surrogate father role) show up. This is an unflinching, honest-but-optimistic look at childhood and what it means to be an adult in a child’s life. It’s about family—imperfect family that still can be special in spite of all its imperfections.

But in terms of its content, C’mon C’mon is pretty imperfect, too. The language is the biggest issue here: If it hadn’t been for that, and perhaps a few references to uncomfortable adult issues such as abortion and mental illness, this film could’ve easily been rated PG.

Alas, we don’t get to cherry-pick the good out of the bad in movies, any more than we get to do so in our own family members. The difference, of course, is that our family is—well, family. Movies are just movies.

And unlike our kids, we don’t need to show up if we don’t want to.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.