Movie reviews by
3 (out of 4)
Taika Waititi is going places and he’s not pausing along his abnormal directorial path to catch a breath or sniff some roses. Alongside the Russo brothers and Joss Whedon, Waititi was one of the few indie-Hollywood transitions – ya know, the routine of converting small time filmmakers into overnight blockbuster neophytes – to pay off successfully with Thor: Ragnarok, a Marvel film with an uncommonly discernable identity. Before Waititi returns to the superhero game with Thor: Love and Thunder and possibly attempts an inescapably expensive adaptation of Akira later on, with Jojo Rabbit he protects his place as an oddball on the outskirts while also netting some invaluable license to Oscar prestige.
Something like Wes Anderson's mind meshed with Life is Beautiful or perhaps Come and See, Jojo Rabbit is constructed on an inflexible tone of indifference. The movie's somewhat inflammatory existence makes me all the curiouser about Germany’s take on a thoroughly Americanized (or Kiwied, however you look at it), flagrantly parodic impression of Adolf Hitler’s ideology on youngsters, particularly when certain stateside spectators are so irked. Waititi’s satire does not exactly succeed as brazen folly, although a well-placed pun or turn of phrase lets Waititi show that his truest talents lie in swift, sage dialogue.
It's never too soon to comment on the nature of distorting history – especially the extra sensitive, 20th century sort – to your own will. When Tarantino warps WWII to his pleasing, it's a saucy continuation of a foolhardy brand but somehow Waititi's impish twists on Nazis, Jews and the subjects in between have been enough for grumbling critics to dismiss the film altogether. To be frank I don't care one smidgen how writers and directors erroneously tweak the past for the sake of a cinematic present, nor about the frail sensitivity of audiences readily conditioned to be rattled at a second's notice. Jojo Rabbit got under my skin emotionally and no amount of personal provocation could agitate shoo-in sympathetic wit once the uneasy first act subsided. This isn't Au Revoir, Les Enfants after all, it's a quirky, sappy comedy by the guy who made that vampire mockumentary starring himself and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which is twice the eccentric feel-good flick Jojo is and sadly no one's seen it. Even when someone both respected and Jewish steps behind the camera as in Steven Spielberg with Schindler's List, still the most petulant of bellyachers are unable to be quelled. I guess religion and nationalism can always be counted on to bring out the worst in the worst of us.
Even if this affair has some overly cute or farcical flashes, the succession of goofiness and heartache is rather strategic, even mathematical. At first, especially with Rebel Wilson onscreen, you should be daring Waititi to hit an emotive peak high enough to win TIFF's People's Choice Award (over Marriage Story and Parasite) but it doesn’t take long for the agreeable juggling act of silliness and substance to strike a sincere rhythm. Waititi himself executes this both on and offscreen, inhabiting young Jojo's idea of Hitler like a wisecracking devil on the shoulder throughout the entire film. Waititi purposely did no research on the infamous dictator, which while an adorable way to posthumously stick it to the Naziest Nazi is a little lazy no matter how appropriately ignorance suits the performance. His supporting cast – Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Stephen Merchant – hand in some of the better performances of their careers as they have terrible fun with pronounced stereotypes. Johansson is specifically moving as the mother raising Jojo (the unassumingly extraordinary Roman Griffin Davis) and sheltering a Jewish girl Elsa (the wonderful Thomasin McKenzie) while her husband fights the war.
Building an organic bridge of empathy as any wholesome film should, Jojo’s steadily sentimental relationship with Elsa elicits an innocent earnestness to reconcile the film’s touchy tonal oddities. It’s honestly the recognizable devotion of McKenzie – who maybe is only so good at acting when it comes to playing scruffy homeless girls as in Leave No Trace – preventing Jojo Rabbit from tripping over its own excess of twee by taking every leap of pathos in stride.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice