Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★½

ADDED TO "2019 RANKED" :) 

Yet another dark comedy in which Sam Rockwell plays a despicable, racist idiot who gets a weird quasi-redemptive moment in the third act, because you can’t make an “anti-hate” Nazi movie without a sympathetic hateful Nazi, even when they were just seen pompously shooting at people in flamboyant regalia. Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit takes a very ‘TIFF Audience Award’ approach to its thorny subject matter, but it’s a fairly fun time if you can roll with the oddly broad humour and blandly crowd-pleasing structure, even if it doesn’t hold up very well to close tonal or thematic examination. 

Compared to other movies that mock their deplorable characters (eg. Martin Scorsese’s BRUTAL The Wolf Of Wall Street), Waititi’s film doesn’t actually throw many heavy punches at all, and I kinda agree with Jake Cole’s assertion that the so-called ‘satire’ amounts to little more than “the Nazis were a bit much, no?” The film seems constantly afraid to go far with anything, and the comedy suffers as a result, despite some terrific moments (the grenade gag is beautifully delivered). Contrary to the Kiwi quirk of Hunt For The Wilderpeople or rascally randomness of Thor: Ragnarok, the humour here often resorts to “HA! They just said Nazi in a lighthearted way!” or the same old “is it getting hot in here?” Boy-talks-to-Girl joke that you’ve seen in a million other books, movies, TV shows, video games and probably also in real life. The hemmed-in approach extends to the drama as well, which is sappily sentimental and tonally wonky as hell, most notably in a third act which jerks between buffoonish comedy and supposed seriousness with little grace or tact. After a solid hour of limply lighthearted fun, the tragic twist comes both appreciated and affecting, but Waititi muddies its impact by A) using visual language that hides the brutality and makes it seem like a fake-out; and B) having an exclusively comical bit of Polynesian-Jew-Hitler eating a unicorn head mere moments later. This overarching guilelessness is potentially more offensive than anything Waititi may have restrained himself from saying, making a film about very serious topics feel flippant and flat.

And yet, for all the question marks, some things are certain: it’s technically well-crafted, the premise is intriguing and the cast is consistently strong, especially ScarJo and Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie on the dramatic front and newcomer Archie Yates on the comedic front, the latter of whom gets the only line to make me laugh out loud (“our only friends are the Japanese and just between you and me, they don’t look very Aryan”). I mostly enjoyed the movie, and the clear contrast between critical and audience reception proves that others have as well, but I dare say many of us would have enjoyed it even more if the film did more. 5.5/10

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