Oscar Nominations 2020 – FILM REVIEW: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Dir: Taika Waititi

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing.

Score: ★★☆☆☆

Jojo Rabbit is the 6th feature of New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, a career that started with Eagle vs Shark progressed to What We Do In The Shadows, took a bizarre detour through Thor: Raganrok ending up here in best picture Oscar territory. A light hearted comedic romp through the pitch black horror of Nazi Germany, the film’s 10 year old protagonist is a dedicated Hitler youth Jojo who sees himself as a future right hand man to the Fuhrer. Being only 10 it’s clear Jojo doesn’t understand the moral implications of being a Nazi and to him it’s really just a 40s version of being in the boy scouts. His moral naivety is expressed through his imaginary best friend, Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. Played by Waititi himself. Jojo talks to Hitler who spurs him on in his quest to become a good little Nazi, in a way that entirely comedically skewers Adolf’s mindset as well as showing us how little Jojo really understands what it means to be part of the Hitlerjugend. The film comes off as a sort of Moonrise Kingdom, meets The Producers, however that description might actually make it sound good however, sadly it is anything but.

Imaginary Hitler romps through the woods with Jojo.

The film’s 108 minutes are an utter chore to sit through, despite some appealing production design and few flashes of comedy, overall the film doesn’t have anything like the required wit or style to tackle such a “risky” subject matter and is often times totally bereft of charm. The film flits between being an (albeit sanitised) grim holocaust drama, an unbearably cutesy, twee sentimental magical kids film and a controversial, “edgy” comedy vehicle for the likes of Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant. The changes of pace largely do not work and Scarlett Johansson, as Jojo’s mother, is lumbered with several desperately clumsy scenes that I have to say made me actually feel sorry for her. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant and Jojo’s other best friend, y’know, besides imaginary Hitler,  Yorki (played by 10 year old British actor Archie Yates and Waititi (Hitler) are often found floundering around reciting passages that ranges from drearily unfunny dialogue to dialogue that could be funny in the right hands, to brief moments where dialogue and the actors line reading actually marry to make a rare and thankful moment of amusement. Most of the time however, the comedy, and the film itself are so brutally simplistic and childish that few of the gags are actually funny, and of the ones that are, not nearly enough of them actually land. 10 year old side kick Yorki actually manages to get the most mileage out of his lines.

Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson admittedly do their best.

Rebel Wilson is entirely unfunny from start to finish, sad given that literally her only function in the film is to be comedic. In truth the film’s three lead characters are not up to much and are on occasion desperately annoying and many of the side players (mentioned above) just seem like they are doing some sort of odd Sasha Baron Cohen impersonation only to be occasionally interrupted by a scene where we learn that Jewish people are just like you and I (who knew) and through repeated discussion that they are not like you and I. Waititi’s intentions are noble here but they just don’t carry enough of the necessary moral weight to be effective, combined with constant pace changes that create a wildly uneven unbearably twee mess.

Hitler comes to tea.

Of course the film’s message is important but no one willing to sit through a film like this is having their mind changed. It’s a little cozy film to make middle class types feel smug about how silly the Germans were to think Jewish people were subhuman monsters, presented as though this were some sort of revelation. A weird sort of pat on the back for people who were never anti-semitic in the first place rather than an examination of how creeping propaganda would have been used to incrementally demonise people. Well done, you aren’t racist, congrats, please carry on. This would be OK if the film was funny, but as I say, sadly it only very occasionally is, mostly it’s just a bit nauseating and entirely predictable. Having sat through this one in the cinema I am more affectionate towards it in the post, but I am not sure being less mad at a film because I am no longer watching it is a great qualification for my endorsement as a best picture nominee. Despite being a noble effort by Waititi, quite how it’s been nominated is something of a mystery frankly.

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