Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★

It's weird to start a review, hell, any paragraph by saying that Hitler wasn't funny enough, or that there wasn't enough of Hitler to make him worthwhile, so instead I'll say the much saner sounding thing; maybe we would have been better off without Hitler. It was the big pitch for this film, a Jewish Maori playing an Adolf, and I dug it as an idea and in quick glimpses during the trailer, but during the film itself the Fuhrer simply felt like a distraction and a drag away from what was actually working for me, the drama.

Outside of the brief bursts of Watiti and Wilson's wilting weirdness this is more or less a sincere story and it works surprisingly well as such. Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin Mackenzie and Sam Rockwell all give charming, effectively emotional performances and are written with a moving mix of callousness and kindness, befitting the situation. Maybe this is too many nice characters for a Nazi film, this probably shouldn't be a "good people on both sides" narrative, and yet these sweet moments were undeniably the film's best, much more effective than its satirical ones.

The satire proposed by the tag line doesn't really resolve into much of anything besides the shouting of the word "Jew". Even Adolf's mini-arc feels more arbitrary than earned, in large part because the film doesn't for a second let the Nazi worldview stand unlocked; which, sure, is good, but having Sam Rockwell open the film by ensuring us that Nazi's are bad and Germany will lose the war instantly deflates the daringness of the vision, the danger inherent in good satire gone.

Strangely then JoJo is the one figure that actually has some fight within him, a fight he loses much more than expected. YA stories are full of sullen men forgiven for all their misdeeds, but it feels strange that Taika takes him this far and doesn't deal out consequences. For example, even after learning that Jews are just people JoJo chooses to gaslight the girl he had only recently stabbed and for neither is he reprimanded by the film. In fact we understand those actions because of how well the film has handled the complex emotional material, which then makes the reappearance of Adolf seem starkly puerile in comparison.

The film should definately be a comedy, I am not taking umbrage with the tone, just the one or two blunt comedic crutches that Watiti uses to bolster a lack of confidence in either himself or the material. The balance for me was a little off at times, but at others it works wonderfully: there are some great visual gags, some strong writing and a moment that drew a sharp intake of breath from the audience the likes of which you normally only hear during the twelfth film in a franchise. People were emotionally invested in this, we cared, and maybe that is a better antidote to hate than the twentieth joke about inaccurate propoganda.