Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★

92nd Time's the Charm (5/9)

Once Taika Waititi, known for his quirky independent New Zealand comedy-drama films, hit the big leagues by directing the big-budget Thor: Ragnarok, there was endless speculation towards just what he would do next now that he's become a welcomed name for rejuvenating the Thor subseries and where this blank check of a career would lead him. A self-described "Anti-Hate satire" with Waititi in the role of Adolf Hitler was not many people's first guesses, but here we are with Jojo Rabbit, a film destined to rile up people who are inherently uncomfortable with the lighter, idealistic take on Nazi Germany it has, despite it being very anti-Nazi. Even with such a fiercely controversial concept, it's done pretty well at the box office and even has some Academy nods, likely for the reasonable argument that its heart and intent is in the right place and could be moving if its execution didn't stumble over itself.

"Jojo Rabbit", nicknamed so as a result of cowardice in killing a defenseless rabbit, is a young Nazi fanatic in the tail-end of WWII. Much like the propagandist ideologies of the Nazi regime, the film makes it point-blank how immature and incompetent those that Jojo follows are, reflecting how easy it is for Jojo to easily accept the Nazi life as something desirable even in their nonplussed demeanors. His support for the hate-driven Nazis comes into conflict with his love towards his nurturing mother and the Jew she hides in their home, and the process in understanding that his beliefs can be challenged and inherently flawed is something that Jojo has to come to accept in the war's last gasp. The life experience that Jojo goes through in order to be a better person shows the complexity of the beauty and horror in his life, and giving the backdrop of the juvenile and pointless hate-based drivel of the Nazis gives it something of a point. Alright. Cool. That sounds like it'd be a pretty great movie then, right?

The underlying problem here is that it's a complete mess in regards of its tone, deliberately so, sure, but more infuriating because of that. Waititi's brand of nonchalant absurdist comedy, and is hit-or-miss here but does deliver some nice subtle gags and moments I do appreciate (me laughing at Hitler in a swimming pool with a gun near children probably says a lot about my dark sense of humor). However, it fumbles early on when a comedic scene of Jojo putting up propaganda posters takes a hard cut to a very grave and serious scene with hanging German "traitors". This is meant to subtly show the anti-Nazi sentiments of Jojo's mother and warn us that this won't be a farce all the way, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for how sudden and jarring it is and immediately moves on to more absurd moments with Hitler. It completely shows no method in trying to balance its seriousness and sardonic comedy, opting for whiplash effect more than anything, and while I understand that doing so makes sense in forcing Jojo to realize the horrors of war, its moments of beauty and tragedy feel unearned and left me less interested in seeing it all pan out, showing the damage of the Nazis but not having it gel with the idiocy we've seen early on (this is a film with literal goddamn Nazi child clones in it, you expect me to take this seriously now?).

There's a lot to be rooting for concerning Jojo Rabbit, especially when there still exist some neo-Nazi pricks that deserve to be mocked more than acknowledged for their asinine practices. Sustaining love and human compassion in the wake of hate is a message that should be obvious, but has some potential and is something positive that can be taken away towards people who like the film more than me. It is unabashedly in the right in calling out the Nazi dreams and accomplishments as nothing more than childish myths and Waititi defiantly thumbs his nose at Hitler for what he tried to build a legacy on (and does provide us a prime forum weapon against political discourse near the end that will surely spread like wildfire in GIF format). As a criticism of Nazis, I can dig it, but as a film proper, it's too tonally messy, uneven, misleading, disappointing, and unremarkable in its techniques and presentation to be something I would personally champion. Catch-22 fills my need for an absurd satirical take on World War II that doesn't shy away from the tragedy and horrors of war better (the book and Mike Nichols film, I haven't seen the miniseries).

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