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 Hollywood transitions – ya know, the routine of small time filmmaker turned overnight blockbuster neophytes – to pay off successfully with Thor: Ragnarok, a Marvel film with an uncommonly discernable identity. Before Waititi takes on an inescapably expensive adaptation of Akira – turned down by Jordan Peele – he protects his place as an oddball on the outskirts while also netting some invaluable license to Oscar prestige with Jojo Rabbit.
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 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 let’s Waititi show his stuff in regards to swift, sage dialogue, where his truest talents lie.
It's never too soon to begin commenting on the nature of distorting history – especially the extra sensitive, 20th century sort – to your own will. When Tarantino warps WWII as he likes, it's a saucy continuation of an 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 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, there are still the most petulant of bellyachers 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 any amount of Rebel Wilson onscreen, you should be daring Waititi to land the film in a manner emotionally effective enough to win TIFF's People's Choice Award (over Marriage Story, 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. His supporting cast – Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Stephen Merchant – hand in some of the better performances of their career as they have terrible fun with pronounced stereotypes. Johansson is specifically moving as a 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 McKenzie – who maybe is only so good at acting when it comes to playing scruffy homeless girls as in Leave No Trace – taking every leap of pathos in stride, and her recognizable devotion saves Jojo Rabbit from tripping over its own excess of twee.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Rise of Skywalker
A Hidden Life
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice