Ray’s review published on Letterboxd:
Waititi remains distinctly not the truth, unforch. Not terribly chuffed nor ruffled with regards to the Nazi set-dressing here —
(other than: portraying fascist leanings as an imaginary friend you have less need for as you build more tangible relationships is an idea with some juice; could build a neat thesis about how this idea interacts with actual reality-based parasocial relationships via YouTube or anonymous online friendships as are the current fascism pipelines)
— because it’s profoundly unimportant to anything this really has going on. Some of the specifics of WWII-era Germany provide convenient vectors by which to introduce conflict and character dynamics, but you could transpose this into basically anywhere on the face of the Earth with unequal class dynamics of any sort within an hour of rewrites. It’s not about Naziism, it’s not about fascism (mostly), it’s not about antisemitism. It’s a purely archetypical exploration of going from not-friends to friends within a power imbalance in the form of an unbearably twee indie comedy ripped from Sundance.
So, if it’s not either burdened or lifted by its setting and auspices, it’s left with the execution of the more fundamental aspects of its writing and genre elements, which largely flopped for me. This is largely where the Sundance comedy comparison comes into play; charitable takes will compare this movie to Wes Anderson, where one I think is more accurate would sooner cite a movie we can’t even remember the name of from any random mid-10s lineup from the festival. The sort of thing that makes its big emotional play toward the end watching two children awkwardly dance. It’s based in an earnest emotion, but it’s based in a sensibility that will either charm you hard or bounce off you equally vigorously.
What pushed me away, put me in the mental space where it could bounce off me like that, is probably largely my distaste for Jojo himself. The young actor is fine enough, really my problem is larger-scale: Jojo himself is the least-interesting character in the film, and the other characters constantly feel bent by the need to push his story forward. There’s bits of this in most people he interacts with, but is by far most-profound with Elsa, who constantly cedes him ground in terms of how open she’s willing to be with him, how much she’s willing to forgive him. It doesn’t just strain my credulity, it dismantles what could be interesting character moments between the two in the name of expediently drawing them close.
Really, Waititi just intended to make a different movie than the one I’d have found interesting, which is more than fair. I haven’t enjoyed any of his movies particularly much yet, no reason to expect that’s changing soon.
Most value for reminding me that Stephen Merchant fucking rules, I will say.