Jojo Rabbit

Review by Jake Cole @jake_p_cole

Directed by

Taika Waititi

Starring

Roman Griffin Davis Scarlett Johansson Thomasin McKenzie

Anticipation.

Taika Waititi’s idiosyncratic voice holds possibility for tackling youthful fascist delusion in the alt-right era.

Enjoyment.

A staggeringly ill-conceived satire that completely fails to explore its own premise.

In Retrospect.

The banality of Waititi’s passion project is the only quality of it that lingers.

Taika Waititi takes aim at the Third Reich (and contemporary fascism) in this paper-thin satire.

Ludicrously billed as an “anti-hate satire”, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is so concerned with making its thematic intentions unmistakable that it neglects to be a satire of any kind. Its premise, of a young child indoctrinated from birth with Nazi ideology, is fertile ground for commentary on how extremism can seem normal, but Jojo’s (Roman Griffin Davis) Panglossian view of the Third Reich lacks bite, with much of its bizarrely lackadaisical rendering of Nazi Germany epitomised by the mewling giddiness of Jojo’s imaginary friend version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi).

To the extent that the film has a visual grammar at all, it is rooted in bright, oversaturated colours that nominally mimic the stylings of Wes Anderson. Yet where Anderson’s own cinematic depiction of fascism (2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) cannily played the director’s visual fussiness as a reflection of the controlling ethos of Nazism, Waititi’s functional style does nothing to approximate – much less comment upon – the atmosphere of fascism.

Indeed, for a film that needs to illustrate the systems that warped a child like Jojo from birth, Jojo Rabbit paints a bafflingly unthreatening vision of Nazi Germany. Jojo himself, virulently antisemitic thanks to a lifetime of brainwashing propaganda, is the only character to consistently air a hatred and fear of Jews.

Everyone else, more preoccupied with Germany’s impending defeat, couldn’t care less about them, from his young peers to SS officers like Captain Klenzendorf, who at first seems like the latest in a string of redemptive racists for Sam Rockwell to play until it swiftly becomes clear that the soldier has already become disgusted with Nazi ideology and thus has no real moral arc.

The unwillingness to depict the pervasive hatred instilled in Nazi society even undermines Jojo’s emotional journey when he discovers that a Jew, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), is being hidden in the attic by his mother (Scarlett Johansson). Contriving to gain Elsa’s trust and lure her into a false sense of comfort to turn her in, Jojo instead engages in a budding romance with the girl, posing as her missing fiancé and writing love letters which ask a wryly amused Elsa to confirm the most outlandish myths he’s heard about Jews.

In theory, Jojo’s rapidly warming, even smitten attitude toward Elsa is a charming means of confronting the absurdity of bigotry with flesh-and-blood human connection, but in practice, Jojo’s attempts to keep Elsa in his attic merely water down how racists are often attracted to the very people they hate.

Any of these might have been at least partially salvaged by some decent jokes, but Jojo Rabbit runs almost entirely on goofy voices and twee energy over actual punchlines. And only once is the true menace of the Third Reich communicated in the form of Stephen Merchant’s looming, calmly authoritarian Gestapo agent. With no bedrock of horror, and no comic insight into it, Jojo Rabbit is a satire without purpose, a minor titillation in setting that ultimately amounts to little more than a slightly crooked rom-com.

Published 16 Dec 2019

Tags: Roman Griffin Davis Sam Rockwell Taika Waititi Thomasin McKenzie

Anticipation.

Taika Waititi’s idiosyncratic voice holds possibility for tackling youthful fascist delusion in the alt-right era.

Enjoyment.

A staggeringly ill-conceived satire that completely fails to explore its own premise.

In Retrospect.

The banality of Waititi’s passion project is the only quality of it that lingers.

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