The film go! Go on is the first with Joaquin Phoenix since joker (for which he won the first Oscar of his career) and is the new project of Mike Mills, the mind behind the famous 20th Century Women, Beginners Where thumb sucker.
At go! Go on a radio reporter takes care of his young nephew and together they embark on a journey across the United States. Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew (Woody Norman) forge a fragile but transformative relationship when they are unexpectedly forced together in this delicate and moving plot that speaks of the relationships between adults and children, of the past and the future.
Shot in black and white, it features a middle-aged man learning to care for a child for the first time and is set against a panoramic backdrop of 21st century American cities and issues. All while learning to approach a child’s needs, concerns and joys with total respect. Learn that they are different, but not inferior to those of an adult. Johnny and Jesse are forced to reunite at a time of crisis in their family and in the world. Their time together is a fleeting but sobering journey that changes the way they see and view each other. As they journey, the ups and downs of this personal and public odyssey morph into a brilliant reflection on love, parenthood, memories, and how we carry on even though we have no idea what’s going on. awaits us.
Johnny works as a radio journalist who interviews young people from all over the country and asks them about the future. Suddenly, his plans change following a family crisis in which his sister needs him to take care of her son. The problem is, she has no experience babysitting, let alone a child as smart and insightful as Jesse.
The director, more personal
Mike Mills previously directed a film inspired by his father (Beginners, this is what love looks like) and another inspired by his mother (20th century women). At go! Go on tells a story that, in a way, is closer to his life experience: a story that delves into the way we communicate. “I wanted to play with opposite scales. On the one hand, the film is about small moments: giving a child a bath, talking before going to bed. On the other hand, you travel to big cities, you listen to young people talking about their future and that of the world, so that the intimate story unfolds within the framework of a much larger one. The same thing happens to me with my son: the time we spend together is very private, but the big questions in life are there,” says Mills.
In 2014, Mills had a son with Miranda July. For him, it was a transition that was instantly disorienting and then slowly revealed itself (much like what Johnny saw in go! Go on), almost unexpected.
Mills knew he wanted to explore what was going on. However, in its own way, this scenario has become a kind of autofiction: a story in itself sincere and very subjective; one that takes place among a fictional family and has countless influences from its surroundings, such as the movies, music, books, and people that inspired it as well as the rhythms and textures of the culture in which we live now.
“Johnny has to learn everything a father learns, but very very quickly”, it says. “As a parent, I found you felt like you were always a rookie trying to keep up with things. This movie was a way to recreate that confusion, that feeling that you’re not quite ready for what happens. Of course, you don’t have to be a biological parent to experience this. You can be an uncle, aunt, teacher, or caretaker.
Casting Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny was not a typical process for Mills. Instead, it was a non-linear path of talking and exploring, then talking and exploring more. They played the script together from start to finish, with Mills playing all but Johnny. “I’m not an actor and it was pretty intimidating” (Mills laughs). “But Joaquin likes to experience things.”
For a long time, the filmmaker wasn’t sure if Phoenix would accept the role. However, once he did, they realized their instincts were very much aligned. “Joaquin doesn’t like to be seen as an actor, and the more that’s true, the better he can play his role and be free,” Mills describes. “So working with him was about creating a situation where those emotions flowed naturally.”
As they discussed each dialogue, Phoenix became Mills’ confidant. “Joaquin has a great radar to detect errors and it helped me become aware when something seemed weird or the dialogue was explanatory. He was an excellent colleague and friend. I was always trying to see how we could improve the film, make it more specific and real.”
The actor got into the character of Johnny, the quiet interviews he layers around the country with Jesse in which he listens intently to the interviewees. “Radio is an almost nostalgic form of communication. However, I was interested in Johnny using it to talk about the future to people who may not have a future,” adds Phoenix.
“I literally put myself in his shoes to compose Johnny,” says the actor. Also, that warmth and sensitivity was something Phoenix felt about how Johnny fits into the world of film. “What stands out about Mike is how balanced and fair he is with each character. Johnny could easily have been the most understood character, but Mike is equally curious about all the characters and each person is fully alive, complex and has its own point of view,” says Phoenix.
go! Go on opens this Thursday, April 7 in cinemas in Ecuador. (I)