Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★

Give it credit: doing Nazi Germany as a quirky, whimsical comedy is a notion beset on all sides with the distinct possibility of total catastrophe. But Waititi appears to know exactly what he's doing, and his rock-steady control of the tone manages to avoid disaster. The movie is never more than a single miscalculation away from total ruin, but it somehow makes it to the credits both without either abandoning its premise or humiliating itself. That's an impressive feat all by itself.

Whether it was worth committing this hard to such a premise is more debatable; the cast is in fine form, but I can't say I was laughing all that much, either; the setting is so severe that Waititi's normal dry kiwi comedy wouldn't offset the darkness, and so he goes very broad and cartoony instead, but the higher energy doesn't end up translating into bigger laughs. And on the other hand, the tragic elements of all this (never far from the surface) are executed sharply enough, but not really with enough insight to feel necessary in the face of the hundreds of similar depressing WW2 dramas.

Still, it's sweet and warm-hearted, and if it's neither enormously funny nor enormously moving, it's still at least somewhat funny and moving. Scarlett Johansson, fearlessly throwing herself into the film's energetic, bittersweet silliness, is so appealing that her performance alone makes the whole film feel worth it. I found it a pretty easy sit, and that was by no means a certain or even likely outcome.

The comparison that most occurs to me is LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL; a harmless, likeable, (if possibly ill-advised) movie which, like JOJO, had to endure the roller coaster of first being shamelessly overpraised, and then unfairly piloried. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is probably not the comparison Waititi was hoping for, but considering THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED was also very much on the table, I'll count us lucky for what we got.

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