Taika Waititi ("Thor Ragnarok") is an auteur who I really respect, a lot. He has an incredibly unique, soulful, and humorous sensibility which, despite walking through dark themes and imagery at times, always seems to find a settled place in hope and peace. He has been able to keep this soul throughout films about vampires, foster care, parental death, and even the MCUs "Thor Ragnarok," one of the best entries into the MCU Canon.
It is a rare thing when a truly unique voice is given the opportunity to make a blockbuster like Thor and even more rare that they manage to maintain their artistic integrity as they do so. Considering this, I was eager to see "Jojo Rabbit," apparently the film you make after a smashingly successful first go at a major Hollywood blockbuster and the cache' that success garners you, at least, that is, if you are Taika Waititi.
The concept of this film is the other half of the draw, for me and, most likely, for many people who have seen the trailer. It's a pretty wild concept to look at the fall of the German Reich from the perspective of a naive wide-eyed eager young boy who is actually a pretty big fan of Hitler and really hates Jews. As I sat down to watch this film, I had moments where I hoped I was about to see something akin to "Death of Stalin," poignant and cutting satire that leaned hard into its themes, with a dash of "Moonrise Kingdom," childhood antics and adulting.
In this regard, the film did not disappoint. Especially, the first 30 minutes or so of "Jojo Rabbit" is chock full of children hurting themselves, engaging in hilarious ignorance driven misspeak, and a healthy dose of sardonic wit in which the young troop of pseudo cub scouts seem more like children being thrown into basic training and brainwashing. This section is so enjoyable, partially because of the child actors who are simply stellar throughout. The thrill of team activity and camaraderie is writ large across all of their faces even as their confusion about things 'too-grow-up' for them begin to encroach on their happy go lucky fun in the woods lifestyle.
This isn't all there is to life, though, as Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is soon to learn. Although he doesn't know it, his mother (Scarlett Johannson, "Her") is a member of the resistance and is hiding a Jewish girl in her attic. With Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie,"The King") we get the introduction of an Anne Frank sort of character who forces Jojo into a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, he feels like he should turn her in but he also fears the 'devious ways of the Jew" and suspects that turning her in may end up getting him and his mother in trouble. He decides instead to dedicate himself to learning and writing about the things he learns from her as a sort of study on Jews and why they are so awful.
As you can see, this film has some really interesting character complexities at play and I haven't even gotten to Sam Rockwell ("Moon") as the Troop Leader for the kids or Jojo's little fat friend in the Hitler Youth who has some of the best lines of the film.
Unfortunately, this is where I have to say that I didn't love this film. For all of its great qualities which I described above, the film left me wanting. I don't think everyone will feel this way but there is no way around the fact that this film just didn't stick the landing for me. Why? I'm not exactly sure, and I'll own that.
I don't know why I didn't walk out of the theater shouting about about how much I adore this film. Maybe, the humorous and dramatic parts weren't balanced in the way that I typically like or certain sections weren't as snappy as I expected. Either way, I end up feeling that, while it is a good movie, it isn't one I expect to watch more than once more in my life, if that.
However, I do think that the film has an audience out there and I sincerely hope it finds that crowd. It is full of heart and the themes of seeking understanding about those different than us, the drive for acceptance, and confronting the ugly realities of life but not losing hope are surely important ones that anyone today will see the value of. Also, if you want to see a kid shoot a bazooka by accident and react as if he just spilled the milk instead of blowing up a building, then you may need to run out and see this film.
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