Because, of course, C’mon C’mon isn’t necessarily about making the world as a whole comprehensible to Jesse. It’s about grappling with how comprehensible to make one key fact: his mom isn’t with him in LA because his dad is having a manic episode in Oakland. It’s not his first, but this one is pretty bad.
I can’t easily say how many manic episodes I’ve had since my hospitalization and bipolar diagnosis 11 years ago. I could tally them up with a moment’s thought, but they’ve varied enough in severity to feel incomparable, and anyway, there’s also the fuzzier-edged hypomania, mania’s less intense cousin that my psychiatrist, my wife, and I all ascribe with casual frankness surrounding the occasional period when my motor is running a little hotter than usual. There was one manic episode three years ago that I recall as pretty noteworthy, whereas my wife doesn’t remember it at all. Without behavior aberrant enough to require hospitalization or excessive medication tampering, some periods of mood elevation can be just that: something to notice, make accommodations for, and ride out.
Last fall, though, things got pretty bad. They never made it all the way to hospitalization bad, but they definitely got as far as weigh the options bad. Around this time, my kids were turning five, three, and one, and so it was the first episode that two of them were particularly cognizant for (the first of my eldest daughter’s life having been the one so apparently mild that it was deemed unworthy of recall by her mother). They noticed when Daddy started crashing on an air mattress in the basement because the baby wasn’t sleeping well, either, and fighting against sleeplessness and lack of appetite is the first step in getting a mania under control. They noticed that on days Mumma worked, Gran started coming over while Daddy disappeared—to minimize collateral damage, I spent much of last fall in my little rented office, watching awards screeners in between sessions of furiously productive, self-directed art therapy, keeping an eye on the edict I’d scrawled onto a piece of paper and tacked to the wall above my desk: Do not speak unless spoken to, I’d urged myself, and when spoken to, keep it brief, because this mania was manifesting as a tendency to joyously badger friends and colleagues while my mind soared and gyred in ways both thrilling and horrifically exhausting. More often than not, though, I justified exceptions to the rule, unleashing torrents of digital prose into all corners of my various chat apps and social media accounts, unable to keep from sharing all the extraordinary epiphanies and inspirations currently being visited upon my hyperactive psyche.
Around this time, I began writing an essay on 20th Century Women intended for the November 2021 issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room, which was on the theme of “Generations.” I was aware that Mills had a new film coming, and that it would likely prove relevant to my essay, but I dispassionately absorbed the winsome, vague trailer for C’mon C’mon and then put it out of my mind again.
I continued working on my 20th Century Women essay as reviews of C’mon C’mon’s festival screenings began rolling in. Gradually, I came to understand one fact: the marketing had buried the centrality of bipolar disorder to the film—and, specifically and frighteningly, the severe manic episode of a loving father prone to flights of creative ecstasy that he can’t keep from pouring into the world, until his mind and the increasingly gaunt form that house it are burnt to a howling ember.