Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and Viv (Gaby Hoffman) are adult siblings who, at the opening of the film, seem to have fallen out over the care of their elderly mother. When Viv’s partner struggles to cope with change in his life and spirals out of control Viv calls on Johnny to care for her 9-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman). The film follows Johnny learning and coping with taking charge of another person’s life through the care for his nephew, a complex and unique nephew at that.
You may, like me, find yourself at first sceptical of this black-and-white, slow-moving, ultra-realistic story but don’t be surprised if after not long you are happily drawn in by this softly spoken yet hard-hitting feature.
Through this film, Mike Mill’s explores what it really means to listen and be listened to. Much of the dialogue is delivered through different forms of technology: over the phone, through microphones and headphones. These technological aids seem to slow down the process of speaking and hearing, breaking down the connection between words leaving one person’s mouth and reaching another’s ear. There is a mediative effect achieved with this which seems to reflect the experience of watching itself.
The film’s focus on listening is complemented by the beautifully curated score created by Bryce and Aaron Dessner. A real aid to also covering up the sound of me audibly crying in the back of the cinema.
Joaquin Phoenix gives, as always, an incredibly sophisticated and moving performance. Yet, rather astonishingly, his co-stars Gaby Hoffman and child actor Woody Norman are anything but shadowed by Academy Award-winning Phoenix. Perfectly capturing the complicated and ultimately heart-breaking relationship between parent and child during emotionally hard times.
Not a film to miss watching in the cinema, give it a chance.