James’s review published on Letterboxd:
Chaplin allegedly said that had he known the full extent of the horrors committed by the Nazi regime he wouldn't have made The Great Dictator, to him hindsight suddenly rendered his work an inadequate representation of a subject matter far darker than he could ever have imagined, but the fact is that film has withstood the test of time and remains one of the great cinematic satires ever made. Both staggeringly profound and genuinely funny, it works because his personification of Hynkel is so true to his own core beliefs, so pure and undiluted that simply by just playing the character with the passion and vigour of the Chaplin persona it already rejected everything fascism stood for.
So where are we now, eighty years later? In addition to us all knowing the full extent of the atrocities of WW2, the ever constant presence and worrying gains made by right wing populism in recent times suggests that this is a subject ripe for revisiting. Taika Waititi is a real treasure, his own films and contributions to Marvel are proof of talent both behind and in front of the camera, so my disappointment with this is accompanied with a heavy heart. The trouble is I don't really know what Jojo Rabbit is or what it wants to say—none of the humour landed for me, though I'll admit there was a smile or two along the way and the so called 'anti-hate satire' which it proudly proclaims itself to be (as if that were necessary) is painfully ill-conceived and perfunctory at best, unable to summate anything more observant that 'these silly Nazis were a bit bad, weren't they?'
Nothing about the film even hit me as being especially pertinent to modern times, the coming of age angle is certainly cute—call me a cynical bastard, but this might explain why everyone else seems so enamored by it, and with this it possibly wants to say something about the dangers of youth indoctrination—the perceived normality of evil seen through uncritical eyes, but it's all so mechanical and desultory, operating somewhere between a second rate Mel Brooks spoof and a kooky Wes Anderson misfire. That said, my admiration for Waititi is still high—to attempt such a ballsy subject matter whilst vying for both humour and poignancy, to succeed or otherwise, is no easy feat.