108 mins. | USA | 2021
“I’ll remind you of everything.”Johnny
Mike Mills gives us a film about a man named Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) that is interspliced with memories and moments from the present that are about to quickly become the past. Filmed in black & white, I think my one big critique would be that it could have mixed up the color scheme by giving us the flashbacks in black & white and filmed scenes set in the present in color. However, creatively, Mills is free to do what he likes.
Both Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman’s delivery have a raw, improvisational feel. Jesse may be eight-years-old, but he has a tremendous maturity: he knows what he wants and expresses himself with the clarity and depth most adults wish that they could. It also feels like a hybrid documentary, as Johnny’s job is to record older children talking about their hopes and fears for the future.
The locations are L.A., Oakland, New York City, and New Orleans, providing a rich contrast in American culture and letting the setting determine the feelings. Now, did Mills film in NOLA for tax credits or so Phoenix and Norman could scream in the brush? I’m guessing both.
“You can be angry and sad and lost and confused.” And that’s okay.”Johnny
Jesse also carries around sound equipment with him for most of the film. Sometimes it seems like the sound could have been sourced from Jesse’s mic, but there’s one point where he bumps his elbow into the mic (and we don’t hear it). It turns out that Monson Douglas was the boom operator.
“Be funny comma when you can period”Jesse
Beautifully edited by Jennifer Vecchiarello, she weaves in and out of different locations, time periods, sound recordings, and phone calls. To top it off, Joaquin Phoenix periodically reads books and articles throughout the film by the likes of Claire A. Nivola, Angela Holloway, Jacqueline Rose, and Kirsten Johnson. One profound shot was the Lyric Elementary School’s marquee showing an earthquake drill scheduled for 11/11. Ultimately, the movie is rich and artistic and flows freely with emotions yet has an incredible depth. The trailer made it seem more focused, and if it suffers for any reason, it seems to be all over the place. Yet, it taps into something powerful and is one of the unmissable movies of the season.
“Stuff you’d never think of happens.”Jesse
-Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) cooks steak
-Jesse eats ice cream and pizza
-Viv tells Johnny to get salami and cheese rolls for Jesse
-Johnny refrains from eating pizza (probably because the actor Joaquin Phoenix is vegan)
-A kid who is interviewed expresses fear about animal extinction
-Johnny tells Jesse to eat protein with every meal (not specifying that it should come from animals)
-Using canvas bags
-Clean air hybrid electric bus
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