Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Given the polarisation of opinion about Jojo Rabbit (2019), it would be so much easier not to write this review at all. However, it is incumbent on me to explain why this movie is one of the worst I have seen in years.
The trailer captures the narrative essence of this war comedy drama. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year old German boy who aspires to be a Nazi killing-machine but his Hitler Youth camp squad nickname him Rabbit because he runs away when ordered to kill one. When he finds Jewish teenager Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) sheltered in the attic he has the chance to betray her in service of the Fuhrer, but his conscience comes into play.
This narrative arc is grounded in a predictable coming of age tale. A magical fantasy device frames the story wherein Jojo has an imaginary friend that only he can see, a campy goofball version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) who urges him to betray Elsa. With the Allied armies closing in, the German war effort enters its dying days and Jojo must confront Nazi lies.
Whether one thinks this film is a comedy or travesty is entirely subjective. Many will laugh at a puerile script delivered in gratingly mangled German accents with incongruous contemporary phrasing. Others may enjoy non-stop dead-pan exchanges, such as Elsa asking “what am I?”, with Jojo answering “a Jew”, to which Elsa replies “Gesundheit”. Or when a female commandant (Rebel Wilson) tells Nazi girls it’s a privilege to serve German soldiers: she has borne eighteen children already so “it’s a great time to be a girl”. Some will even think Jojo’s cartoonish Hitler is a credibly funny representation of evil, perhaps unaware of the all-time satirical classic: the goose-stepping John Cleese and his “don’t mention the war” skit. Where Cleese had surgical control of his mockery, Jojo’s Hitler sprays cheap one-liners that are cringingly unfunny.
It is argued that half of today’s generation know very little about Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust, so films like this potentially alert us to the dangers of extreme politics. Jojo Rabbit may have worked had it opted for clarity or gravity of purpose; its stellar cast make little difference. It is a mashup of so many genres that any meaningful message is lost, and all is sacrificed to low brow gags. The film’s most serious moments struggle for respect under the shadow of slapstick, kitsch, and the use of stand-up comedy to portray humanity’s darkest time misses its mark. Even its implicit reference to the madness of contemporary American political leadership is so obscure as to be irrelevant. With a climax that mocked my staying power, this film is, at best, original in conception but a misfire in execution.
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Scarlett Johansson