Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019) wr. Taika Waititi from novel 'Caging Skies' by Christine Leunens; Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell

A World War 2 satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) whose worldview is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind fanaticism.

What I found fascinating about this was the New-Zealand-ness of the film. It is present in only one character, but as that happens to be played by the director who is also the writer, I think I'm justified in perceiving it. It seems to be manifested in Kiwi film-makers' preparedness to give anything a go, to take risks, to push a concept past its limit, and to have fun. Playing a fantasy version of Hitler, Waititi doesn't bother much with a German accent. Once he's established it in the first line of a scene, he degenerates into his usual 'fush and chups' way of speaking, and his amateur acting. NewZealandness is also found in the lack of seriousness in moments of the dialogue. When they first meet, Elsa gets Jojo to say what she is: "A Jew". "Gesundheit," Elsa replies. Later, Jojo is excited about a turn in the plot, and shouts that "It's a Mexican standoff." "No," replies Elsa, "it's just a standoff." It's hard to imagine a regular Hollywood writer leaving that kind of thing in the script. In Aotearoa, it's normal.

I liked this a lot. Roman Davis does a sterling job. The two woman in the house are OK, and Sam Rockwell brings some depth to his crazy character. Two actors get their parts because of their appearance, one because he's 6'7" tall, which he can't help, and the other because she's fat, which she can.

... The present-day didacticism of Jojo Rabbit, by encouraging viewers to look with benign empathy at Nazis, the cinema’s iconic worst of the worst, is also encouraging a similar sympathy for the Trump supporter next door, and even for the self-caricaturing Trump himself. The actual target of Jojo Rabbit isn’t really the haters, it’s those who would presume to hate the haters. The movie doesn’t so much satirize Nazis, let alone expose the fraudulence of contemporary hatemongers (such as neo-Nazis or alt-rightists) or mainstream Republican Trump-cultists. Rather, the movie ultimately cautions against the easy contempt and dismissal of them by liberals and progressives: there are a lot of very fine people on both sides. Richard Brody, NY Times.

Almost no-one who has read Brody's 'review' will go and see the film, partly because it takes such a negative view — but also partly because it tells the story in such great detail there’s nothing left to see.  In that, it is the epitome of lazy ‘reviewing’.  (No-one else has seen the film, so I - clever me - get to tell the story first. Nya nya.) 

With or without Brody, whom I despise, it suggests once again how unrewarding it is to attempt to make a comedy.  People forgive a vampire film anything, but everybody loves to put a comedy down.  Because they may not know much about the craft of art but they know that they didn’t laugh - so it can’t be any good at all.

Another thought: it’s an example of what I (I alone?) call ’australism’: judging anything from the south to be inferior.  Waititi is Maori.

Anonymous director and Academy voter, quoted by IndieWire: "Early tonal wobbles stopped me from loving it. I didn’t have a problem with bad taste – that was perfectly pitched, or Taika Waititi as Hitler. But it gets broad with Rebel Wilson and Sam Rockwell; when you get to Thomasin Mackenzie, the film gets better, with real emotional stakes. The second half starts to find its feet. It’s an ambitious, impressive movie that doesn’t have a chance of winning."

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 24 October, 2019 | Now: 31 May, 2020