Justin Willis’s review published on Letterboxd:
Very unlike Boy, I'm sure that JoJo Rabbit is going to stick with me. I was affected by this, but not in a good way. I'll start with hands down the biggest problem of the film. The comedy.
I don't think it's impossible to make a comedy out of the holocaust, or any event for that matter. If a filmmaker wants to tackle something serious like that and take the piss out of it, go for it. Roberto Benigni did it quite well with Life Is Beautiful. But any director tacking this needs to be more wary of the pot-holes that accompany it. And I fear Waititi was too thoughtless in his take on the subject matter. This doesn't feel like a movie about the Holocaust. Or Nazi's. Or "an anti-hate satire" as the tagline proclaims. This is a very paint-by-the-numbers coming of age drama about a young boy that falls in love and as a result happens to also learn that cartoonish anti-semitism is bad. The very pronounced setting never feels like anything more than a setting. Which I personally feel is just a bit unacceptable considering how much the movie jokes and jabs.
Much like Boy, the comedy is everywhere and nowhere. I watched this film with Cavin and the only time I noticed him laugh was near the end when I turned to him during a poignantly cringey moment and he saw my look... and then he laughed. Sure, the film is comedic. But it never finds a balance between the comedy and the drama. They occur simultaneously. As a result, neither land.
Maybe Waititi is actually ahead of his time. Maybe I'm demanding too much, wanting a clear cut comedic acts 1 and 2 followed by a dramatic act 3. That's what I praised about Life Is Beautiful. Maybe I'm demanding too much expecting a movie to clearly identify when a serious moment is happening. That's what I praised about the The Big Sick or The Apartment or any Wes Anderson film. But with JoJo, those moments aren't telegraphed.
I'll be real and actually blame that on the decision to keep this PG-13. The most shocking moment of the film, that one scene which clearly identifies itself as a moment of levity, is honestly just far too tame. And it unfortunately happens without any change to the main character. He'd already fully developed, so the one serious moment happens both off screen and without any change to the character/plot.
And I've already kinda addressed this, but the lesson the central kid learns really has nothing to do with the "satire" we're observing. He literally learns about the evils of the Nazi's, not from anything he sees about their actions, but from the butterflies in his stomach he gets from spending time with a Jewish girl. Her actions, constantly affirming the lies he's spreading, was just baffling to me as a viewer and honestly made the movie far more confusing than it needed to be. For all the hype of an imaginary Hitler best friend from act 1, the fictional Hitler largely disappears for most of the film. Instead, we get the laughably terribly Sam Rockwell doing who-knows-what to advance the plot. Having him be this odd kind of gay and also not really a nazi takes the piss more out of the film than taking the piss out of National Socialism. With as much as the film jokes about Nazi's, not ever letting the kid in on the jokes really destroys the movie.
So neither the serious moments develop the character, nor do the moments of satire develop him. Both are merely there for the audience, not the character. At the end, with a movie as wild and easy as this, I honstly left wondering what Waititi's point was. Like, surely his message wasn't as simple as "talk to someone you think has horns, realize they don't have horns, realize they're human, and abandon everything you've ever learned". But much of the commentary on indoctrination, racism, anti-semitism, or any of the actually cartoonish aspects of the Nazi near their final days comes across. Overall, a strange and surreal film that's truly misguided from the moment it starts.