Stuck in the Czech Republic as a result of a travel ban announced after the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I watch one random film a day until the travel ban is lifted to keep some of my sanity intact.
Satirizing the Third Reich is an ambitious endeavor that has rarely paid off. Perhaps it is because Charlie Chaplin was so successful at it with The Great Dictator, as the war was ongoing. Nevertheless, Jojo Rabbit is one of the latest titles to give it a go. At least it appears to do so, though after a promising start, it willingly ends up going the safe route, apparently poking fun at cinematic depictions of Nazism rather than Nazi ideals.
The protagonist of the film is the title young boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis). He is a loyal member of the Hitler Youth and even has an idealized and over-the-top version of the Fuhrer himself (played by writer/director Taika Waititi) as an imaginary friend. One day, he finds a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie), whom his mother (Scarlett Johansson) hides in the attic.
The process by which Jojo begins to befriend the Jewish girl is totally naive, even for a film that is carried forward by a nostalgia-tinged style that recalls the quirk of such Wes Anderson movies as Moonrise Kingdom. What should have been a profoundly disturbing relationship and coming-of-age moment, actually ends up being ridiculously superficial.
It is no wonder that, in the end, the most memorable things about the film are the over-the-top performances – including Waititi’s Hitler and Johansson’s performance, the latter recalling Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful. Meanwhile, the most memorable shot is Sam Rockwell in theatrical attire (a hint at his character’s homosexuality, perhaps?) fighting the Americans in the final moments of World War II. It also has several inspired references to modern popular culture that positively challenge the film’s timeline.
Moments such as these show some type of ambition behind the project but what ultimately marks the film is that it is neither dramatic nor funny. It is also too mature to be a family film, and too childish to appeal to an older audience. The problem with many films that are made nowadays is that even when they choose to take on daring concepts, they do so in a way that is incredibly undaring. Jojo Rabbit is merely a latest example of such a project.
JOJO RABBIT | Director – Taika Waititi | Writer – Taika Waititi | Starring – Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waitti, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell | USA | 2019