Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★½

Jojo Rabbit is just such a weird film. Not weird in the sense that what happens in it is weird; goodness knows I'd be far more impressed with it if it were. No, Jojo Rabbit is weird in the sense that its assembly as a work of cinema is weird. That is to say, bordering on incoherent.

The film takes place in Germany during the waning days of the Third Reich. Ten-year-old Johannes "Jojo" Betzler is a committed Nazi whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler himself. Somehow his devout Nazism has failed to win him credibility among people his own age, however. When he is mocked for being unable to kill a rabbit at a Hitler Youth camp, thereby earning the nickname "Jojo Rabbit", Hitler (the imaginary version, that is) encourages him to look at things from a different angle and embrace this new moniker, observing that rabbits have to exercise bravery on a regular basis.

Acting on such advice, he gets himself blown up, and from there the story seems to ramble its way along a chain of narrative conveniences to the discovery that will change Jojo's life: his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. As any experienced audience will be able to deduce, this moment will come to represent for Jojo what people seem to like to call a "learning curve," but I'd be lying if I said the film was entirely predictable. However - and this is the first of the film's three central weirdnesses - one of the narrative's most pivotal points is intended to be taken as seriously as something from a straight drama, but by this point the audience has grown so used to the film's cutesily comical tenor that we can't quite buy it. And thus the film plunges into a tonal nightmare that it never wakes up from for the rest of the film, veering from laughs to tears at a click of the fingers yet always determined to stick to the cutesiness that it started with.

The next weird thing about the film is that, despite its evident desire to attain some level of seriousness, it's never especially interested in interrogating the reasons behind Jojo's fanatical devotion to an insidious ideology. Instead, writer-director Taika Waititi leans on the quirky ploy of having Hitler be his imaginary friend as if to lessen the burden of responsibility for actually criticising Nazism in any substantial way, something he also accomplishes by portraying the adult Nazi characters as a gallery of grotesques whom no one in their right mind could take seriously - which of course was not how Hitler's regime worked. That's not even mentioning the performances. What most of the cast accomplishes is essentially strong (special props to Thomasin McKenzie), but the accents. The accents. No one accent is consistent with another, and none of them sounds remotely German. Stephen Merchant barely bothers, I don't know what the hell Rebel Wilson thought she was doing, and Scarlett Johansson, who gives what is probably the film's second best performance (in purely emotive terms), still has to be heard, or rather endured, to be believed.

But I think what makes Jojo Rabbit weirder still is the fact that it actually made me laugh from time to time. It's probably not overly surprising that the man who wrote What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople would be able to slip in some genuinely funny gags here and there, but given the bizarre levels of inconsistency in this film I'm becoming more and more astonished at how often these jokes hit the spot. Still, they're not enough for me to view the film any more generously. Jojo Rabbit is just such a weird film.

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