Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

A good, not great outing by Taika Waititi. The largest fault is the unevenness of its atmosphere. The first 20-30 minutes do a great job of focusing the satire and tinging it with genuine darkness, but it loses that balance and unevenly rocks between genuine drama and surrealist comedy. For a movie concerned with Nazis, there's a surprising lack of actually nefarious Nazis, and if not for a last minute appearance by the Gestapo this film would have no teeth.

Every depiction is tongue-in-cheek. Sam Rockwell plays a Nazi captain, with a performance you've seen before, and is our token "not terrible" Nazi. He is covertly gay, has a handful of funny scenes, but only a few of actual consequence. Scarlett Johansson plays Rosie, the eponymous Jojo Rabbit's mother and secret resistance member. Johansson showcases some real acting chops in her role. However, there's no real interplay between these characters, and it's a serious failing of the film.

The movie has a lot of this. Roman Griffin Davis is excellent as our scarred, coming-of-age Hitler youth protagonist, melting into the role, and so is the rising star Thomasin McKenzie, who plays Elsa, the Jew hidden within Jojo and Rosie's home. Plot contrivances keep a number of these performances isolated. McKenzie, Johansson, and Davis are never on-screen together at any point. Rockwell doesn't interact with anyone but Davis in any real way, besides a few brief scenes. There's a lack of connective tissue here that undermines a number of story elements, namely the death of Jojo's mother, Rosie, which comes and goes and lacks resonance despite the strength of the moment itself, and Rockwell's Nazi captain's later sacrifice, which comes way too predictably.

A key "obstacle" to Davis's affections towards McKenzie is her distant lover Nathan, who is revealed to be dead--a pitifully lame plot convenience. While Jojo overcomes Nazi propaganda and sheds his nationalistic zeal, it didn't feel like he grew up and matured as much as it was pounded out of him through failure.

Wasn't a fan of how Waititi's Hitler imaginary friend vanishes for near half the movie at one point, either. That was billed as a main premise, and it becomes a detached gimmick that is done away with in a perfunctory manner.

The movie is ramshackle, a handful of ideas glued together, hinting at greatness. It's not terrible, however. I enjoyed most of the performances. The comedy ranges from average to sharp. It doesn't overstay its welcome. This would've been a terrible movie in someone else's hands.

Arthur D. liked these reviews