Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 2, 2022)
When we last saw Joaquin Phoenix, he starred as the title character in 2019ís Joker and took home an Oscar for his work. After that big studio effort, Phoenix returns with 2021ís indie flick Címon Címon.
Radio journalist Johnny (Phoenix) leads a nomadic life, as his job places him in spots all around the US. Emotionally immature, Johnny lacks much contact with family, mainly because of the aftereffects related to his motherís death.
Johnny reconnects with his semi-estranged sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) as she deals with issues connected to her ex-husband Paul (Scoot McNairy). This leads Johnny to visit her in LA, where he encounters his nine-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman).
Viv needs to go to Northern California to work through problems with Paul, and that means she could use a babysitter. Due to his job, though, Johnny canít stay in LA with Jesse, so he takes the boy on a road trip where the two get to know each other and embark on some adventures.
You donít suppose Johnny will learn some lessons and grow up along the way, do you? Spoiler alert: yeah, though donít expect Címon to follow a typical feel-good path.
That doesnít mean the story goes down dark avenues, as it maintains a fairly neutral attitude. Still, one shouldnít expect real surprises from the ways in which Johnny reconnects with family and grows up a bit.
Honestly, the movieís backstory related to the death of Johnny and Vivís mother as well as Paulís mental collapse all feels like windowdressing. Essentially the simple story of a middle-aged man who finally starts to grow up, it comes across like the filmmakers figured it needed more gravity, so they tacked on these deeper topics.
I disagree, and I think these more dramatic domains just distract from the main theme. The movie doesnít need any ďseriousĒ rationale for the Johnny/Viv estrangement or the road trip, so these elements can seem unneeded.
That said, since so much of Címon comes across as contrived, one might not even notice the unnecessary nature of those plot points. A collection of loosely connected scenes that involve self-absorbed characters, this becomes a tough tale to swallow.
Again, the various contrivances become a crutch. Johnnyís job allows him to act as the movieís narrator, and a better-constructed film would function without this incessant ďJohnny the ExplainerĒ chatter.
Of course, Johnnyís career choice also allows him to visit various spots and engage Jesse in a variety of ways. Granted, most road trip films require some plot loop to exist, but this one feels even more forced than usual, especially because Johnnyís interviews come across as irrelevant editorializing.
These chats with random kids come across as an easy way to provide ďsocial commentaryĒ and they feel superfluous. The movie could Ė and would Ė fare better without the distractions they provide.
The lack of real characters or a substantial plot remains a serious issue here, as too much of Címon feels like pretentious claptrap. We get pseudo-profundity from the interview subjects along with Johnnyís trite commentary and alleged ďdeep thoughtsĒ.
Because the adults veer toward self-absorbed and self-pitying, they become a problematic base for the story, and Jesse doesnít compensate. He alternates between obnoxious and precocious, without much personality in between these poles.
Weíre supposed to like the kid but he just annoys, and not in a smart way. Jesse needs some charm to make Johnny warm to adulthood and parental responsibilities, but the kid feels like a movie creation and not a believable personality.
Really, that goes for Címon as a whole. The film never offers more than self-serious pretentious episodes without much to satisfy.