Thursday, 21 November 2019

Jojo Rabbit ★★★☆☆

Despite a filmography that includes What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople and the brilliant Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi’s latest film is a hard premise to swallow. Whilst known for irreverent and oft-surreal humour, Jojo Rabbit seemed like a step too far. The film, in which Waititi plays an imaginary Hitler to a young, lonely Nazi boy, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with the initial marketing. How could you make a quirky comedy around such a dark and distressing time in our history?

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother (Scarlet Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler (Waititi) -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.

Marketed as an ‘anti-hate satire’ by whichever unlucky sod was tasked with selling such a bizarre premise to the masses, Jojo Rabbit’s tone and message were totally vague. Was this a piss-take?  Upon viewing the film at October’s London Film Festival, however, I was surprised to learn that the film’s marketing didn’t really capture the film’s tone at all. While the premise is accurately advertised – yes, this is about a boy with an imaginary friend in Adolf Hitler – there is a lot more heart here than expected. But that is both a positive and a negative.

Of course, it is a negative to display Nazism in such a twee way, with the true horror and implications of World War II often far removed. While elements of the war are alluded to, this is by-and-large a colourful, fun and sanitised little comedy that often feels weak and cowardly. If you’re going to make a quirky Nazi comedy, you need to go hard or go home. This just feels like a TV comedy sketch stretched to a feature-length without any real punch, focusing instead on a gentle coming-of-age narrative structure in a film that feels almost derivative of Wes Anderson’s unique style. What was initially marketed as audacious and brave, the film is almost frustratingly safe.

But despite being marketed as an irreverent comedy, the film does occasionally steer toward drama and this is where it achieves its greatest impact. Like most satire – just look at any Chris Morris film – the laughs slow down as the film reaches its conclusion and ends on a more thought-provoking and poignant note than the bizarre jokes that have come before it. But while Chris Morris’ satire is sharp, biting and challenging, this feels rather soulless and cheap in comparison. Satirising Hitler has been around for decades – just look at Mel Brooks’ The Producers – and it feels like Waititi hasn’t really got anything new to say with Jojo Rabbit.

On the whole, Jojo Rabbit is, unfortunately, something of a misfire. Not funny enough to pass as an unmissable comedy and certainly not emotionally complex enough to address the realism of the world it inhabits, it falters somewhere between the two genres in a cinematic purgatory that feels desperate to be edgy and audacious. Jojo Rabbit is a disappointment, and possibly the weakest entry in Waititi’s stellar filmography thus far. But even bad Waititi is better than most of the rubbish on the big screen these days, so it still comes with a recommendation – just adjust your expectations accordingly.

Sam Love

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