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‘Jojo Rabbit’ is a sincere satirization of a menace, past and present

‘Jojo Rabbit’ is a sincere satirization of a menace, past and present

‘Jojo Rabbit’ is a sincere satirization of a menace, past and present
November 19
21:48 2019

Friends, we have officially left whatever that hellish summer/fall abomination we were in since September and have seemingly entered winter early, which means we are in that wonderful period when the studios and independents push out their best and brightest crowd-pleasers and indie darlings. Among these we’ve had “Joker,” “The Lighthouse,” “Parasite” and now we have “Jojo Rabbit,” an audacious gut-buster from writer, director and actor Taika Waititi.

Waititi couldn’t have picked a better cast. Waititi is fantastic as the imaginary Hitler, drawing as much laughter as he does disgust. Scarlett Johannson is also wonderful as Jojo’s shrewd and understanding mother, while Sam Rockwell turns in a surprisingly compelling performance as Captain K, a disillusioned and cynical Nazi of great combat renown.

Rebel Wilson is also quite funny as an oddly brutish teacher who belongs just as much in a propaganda office as she does a fifth-grade classroom. The main and supporting casts are all astounding, and each got laughs from me. However, I can’t forget the two true stars of the show.

The real standouts here are Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Davis plays our titular protagonist, a likable and imaginative little kid, who can also unnerve whenever he’s regurgitating the rhetoric of the Reich.

There’s real chemistry that is both adorable and uneasy with the Jewish hideaway, Elsa, played by McKenzie, who has a real mature quality about her, even she’s playing into Jojo’s racist paranoia to mess with him. Two of them share some emotionally gripping scenes that each pulls off, which makes it all the more an impressive debut for Davis.

The writing is sharp, with some of the weaker quips, which there aren’t that many of, being bolstered by the precise comedic timing and skill of the cast. That comedy is also backed by a strong emotional connection, roping the audience into Jojo’s mindset and excavating the good and childish wonder within a young boy who is swept up in the whirl of fanatical ideology, as well those disillusioned by or it outright targeted by its wielders.

Also, props for quite a few jokes being brazen enough to make me question the PG-13 rating, even for an often cheery film, such as this. Then again, it’s Waititi, who’s been known to gift his audiences with his usual unique brand of humor that is blacker than coal.

While this is not necessarily to the movie’s detriment, there definitely seems to be a strong Wes Anderson-inspired vibe that runs throughout the entire runtime: The bright, picturesque town that Jojo lives in resembles many those from Anderson and even Anderson’s bittersweet tragicomic leanings seem to overtake “Jojo” in the final act. I was especially reminded of “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” In fact, comparisons to Anderson seem to be a common motif in many reviews and pieces .not that I minded all that much.

Honestly, the biggest problem with Waititi’s new film is the lack of originality. As documented by a wonderful doc that Denton’s Alamo Drafthouse played before the previews, comedies satirizing the Nazis aren’t new, even if they’ve become seemingly far rarer in recent years.

Then there’s also the debate over whether or not to make fun of an ideology that has had a scary resurgence in recent years, which is definitely a point of contention. In fact, there are a few pieces on why satirizing Nazis may indicate a greater failure to take their threat seriously, with A.O. Scott’s “When We Laugh at Nazis, Maybe the Joke’s on Us” from the New York Times being probably the best read on the subject.

All that being said,  I feel “Jojo Rabbit” mostly maintains a successful walking of that delicate tightrope, with much of the finger-pointing and mockery largely being derived from the stupidity and insanity of Nazi ideology and their racist beliefs. The scenes between Jojo and Elsa are a massive highlight of this, and even the self-casting of the Maori-Russian Jewish Waititi as Adolf Hitler indicates which side the movie takes.

When all is said and done, I found “Jojo Rabbit” to be an emotional rollercoaster, worthy of all the underwhelming controversy and acclaim’s it had. It can be adorable, it can be hilarious, it can be bittersweet and outright heartbreaking. I’d wholeheartedly rank it alongside “Booksmart,” “SHAZAM!” and “Late Night” as one of the year’s best comedies and a strong decade closer for the genre.

My rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy IMDB

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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