Written by Tanya Lederman; Directed by Mike Mills; Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Elle Fanning and Kristen Wiig; Produced by Mike Mills and Jennifer Todd; Running time: 104 mins; Certificate: 15.
Mike Mills’ ‘C’on C’mon’ follows the adventuring odyssey of three generations of a California family. A first look at the film at Cannes Film Festival revealed a key ingredient to its success: its cast, who were committed in their portrayal of a strict religion system in a bid to keep the stark landscape of their lives under the spell of their solemn rituals.
In an interview in Cannes, Phoenix said he received the role (which also stars Elle Fanning and Kristen Wiig), from a list of actors he’d heard ‘seven or eight’ others were being considered for. He found the character to be ‘gut-wrenching’ and admitted the process was overwhelming.
“I don’t want to sound like a lame human who fell in love with a movie because I knew somebody,” he says. “It was tough, man. I was after the most honest human experience possible that I could find.”
Elle Fanning: I saw my parents cracking
In the documentary, Mills and his co-director Jennifer Todd explain the appeal of a story in which sincerity and family ties shape the narrative.
Todd explains that Mills was interested in a unique kind of family dynamic, and what that meant for watching, as it played out, his actors. As a family drama, ‘C’on C’on’ was a script she knew would resonate. She puts her finger on an explanation for the film’s success: “I think what it speaks to are universal themes… it speaks to people who are very serious about their faith.”
For Jennifer Todd and Mills, the process of creating a set and script fit beautifully into the project that ‘came out of nowhere.’ They say much like the improvised footage from their own 2011 short film ‘This Is Everything,’ it felt like ‘we were just playing ourselves.’”When we shot [the short] there was no real visual arch, and then when we decided to make it into a feature, it was like ‘OK, no’. It did all begin with that short film, because that was a window into this family and their real values.”
From left to right: Mom Joan (Anne Son), Dad Sam (James Urbaniak), Joaquin Phoenix, sisters Melanie (Allison Janney) and Abigail (Lindsay West); Credit: coryne connone
After the short film, Paul Thomas Anderson saw it, and it was then that Mills – who has said, “when you try to make a film, even an independent film, you start as a student and end up as a giant.” – pitched his story about a family taking a cross-country road trip for a 2 million dollar literary contract. Mills says he was advised to ‘go back and work on another script’.
His father David Mills – whose son co-wrote ‘C’on C’on’ – had long wanted his own feature-length script. He had been working on it for the past 25 years. In ‘C’on C’on’ he wrote the book that the film is based on, ‘A Book By …’, and served as a consultant on the film’s spiritual sensibilities.
Mills says that when he was first asked to write ‘C’on C’on’, he originally turned down the script.
“The amount of money, I wasn’t sure that the story fit,” Mills says. “The thing I was worried about is me being lured into the idea of doing an extra job… something I wasn’t emotionally connected to.”