Grackles review Jojo Rabbit
Directed by Taika Waititi
Reviewed by Scott Ray and Charlie Riccardelli
Set in Germany during World War II, Taika Waititi’s satire Jojo Rabbit follows Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a ten-year-old who’s a proud member of the Hitler Youth. He earns the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’ from the older kids at his Hitler Youth camp when he fails to kill a rabbit to prove he’s hardened enough to be a true Nazi. With the encouragement of his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, Jojo seeks out alternate means to prove his valor, but he faces his greatest test when he discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden Jewish teenager Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Though he first wants to turn Elsa in to the Nazis, Jojo keeps her secret under the guise of learning more about Jews, but soon a friendship blossoms between the two that will test Jojo’s loyalty to the Third Reich.
Revisiting the blend of farce and heart from his earlier films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi takes bold steps to skewer those who are driven by hate while championing the power of human connections that build love and compassion. Jojo Rabbit aims to be more than a historical portrait with its whimsical irony and pop song soundtrack that includes the famous covers of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and David Bowie’s “Hero”.
Charlie Riccardelli: One of my favorite films of 2018 was Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, an acerbic satire about the fight for power in Soviet Russia in the days after Stalin died. I mention this movie because it’s a gut-busting comedy and frightening story that deals with some dark material. While watching Jojo Rabbit, I kept turning over in my mind why The Death of Stalin worked so well as a social comedy and why Jojo Rabbit did not in the least. Dark periods of history like these aren’t above skewering, but Waititi, usually such an assured director, is far too glib here. He’s prone to easy Nazi jokes that are tonally off from when the film steers into Wes Anderson-style whimsy or the grim realities of life during wartime in Germany. What did it even mean besides love being better than hate?
Scott Ray: What did it mean, indeed. If it meant to teach me that love was better than hate in all cases I’d have to say it wasn’t effective. I’d say there are cases where hate is perhaps the appropriate response. For example, I hated this film.
Look, I get that the point of the film—very evidently underscored in a pre-credits epigraph from Rilke, no less—is that love conquers all. You’d think a movie with whimsy-Nazis would interrogate the simplicity of that statement a little. I know that history has gotten a little hazy lately, but I think I’m on pretty sturdy ground when I propose that love alone did not conquer the Third Reich.
Jojo Rabbit doesn’t add up to anything more than a tired shot at flimsy aphorism because it hasn’t thought beyond how pretty it feels to recite pithy phrases. The whole thing feels like an adolescent conception of a crazy idea. “What if this kid’s imaginary friend is Hitler? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?” In execution we see how empty and tasteless this idea is. This is a pretty tired thing to rehash right now, with directors li