Jojo Rabbit ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie's performances (and the supporting cast / production design )are the only things that salvages this. Given the sham of the script and Taika's vision, it's a miracle they gave good performances at all.

Satires make succinct commentary about a person/event/etc. while absurdly exaggerating specific flaws/traits/etc, and above all, trusts their audience to know the difference between the two (which judging by a lot of misdirected negative takes out there, some people don't know how to read satire...) While the first act shows promise of being satirical, 'masking' Hitler Youth programs into a Moonrise Kingdom aesthetic with a mix of The Producers' Springtime for Hitler, the film mostly does away with its absurdities (excluding the bright bold production and costume design) half-way through and becomes a drama with a few good jokes sprinkled in.

For me, the film goes downhill the moment Jojo discovers Elsa and onwards. Jojo doesn't really know what it takes to be a Nazi except to hate Jews. And, luckily for him, Elsa is a 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl Jewish Captive'. Instead of pinning the real responsibility of her having to live like a ghost in a stranger's attic on actual Nazism, Taika overlooks her trauma and distorts it - she's stuck teaching Jojo what it means to be Jewish by regurgitating dangerous Anti-Semitic stereotypes, while the rest of the Nazis are mostly painted as wacky figures of his imagination, as 'evil but dumb' or 'ignorant but young'. Elsa and Jojo's chats are meant as nods to the audience like 'who actually believes this stuff, oh yeah Nazis did', but the language is so codified in real beliefs people still have and are so repetitive, it's nauseating. When Elsa has the opportunity to talk about what happened to her, it's only inferred with understanding by Jojo's mom, or in fleeting tidbits to Jojo (her parents at a train station i.e. concentration camp). All of the people saying this isn't a Holocaust movie because it doesn't show the Holocaust is evidence of the script's failure to actually portray Elsa as a real survivor. World War II exists in the weird ether outside of the attic, not explored with depth and not daring to repeat the actual comedy of the training camp scene (pre rabbit kill), while Stephen Merchant's Willy Wonka clan isn't enough of a threat to create real tension about why Nazis are true antagonists. Elsa's regarded as a 'lost and found Jew' Jojo claims for himself (using fake letters by her fiance to hurt her, trying to kill her after her mom's death, telling his friend he caught one, among other things). Similar to the rabbit Jojo refused to kill in the beginning, he shows iotas of compassion to Elsa because he develops a crush on her, not because his beliefs against Jewish people have changed or that he understand what he, his country, or Hitler, have done is wrong - he mostly feels bad that it's not a good time to be a Nazi because his mom is executed, he gets caught in the Allies' crossfire, and Hitler 'took the easy way out' so to speak.

Who is Jojo beyond being a kid playing dress-up wanting to be apart of a club is never really explored - he, like the rest of Germany, will go "back to normal" and not be held responsible (i.e. like a majority of Nazis who escaped trials and fucked off to South America with the help of the Red Cross) while people like Elsa will live with the trauma they endured forever. A smarter ending would've had Jojo tell Elsa the truth that the Allies won so she could leave freely (not try to trick her about Germany winning and him helping her escape, a facade that last 45 seconds), or had him save the drawings of Elsa and his mom but burn the rest of the book to show how Jojo changed outside of his views of Token Elsa. But I digress.

Similar to Thor: Ragnarok, the actors are in another realm, while Taika's ideas provide a very weak foundation. Except for the film's message to work better, the script between the two characters needed to be stronger, and that's why it falls flat. Taika's anti-hate message tries to rest on the ending - that when stripped of hate or the so-called differences we have, we're all just people who want to live well - that's better executed with the dance scene in Blakkklansman. So, the movie as a whole is more window dressing than anything else.

I didn't like Jojo Rabbit for the reasons other people hate it do - namely, "how dare a Polynesian-Jewish filmmaker use World War II to create a satire". I hate it that Taika took this risk but didn't own up to it - it's not smart enough to have a real direct take on bigotry / World War II / Hitler Youth or even a correlation to today's Red Hat kids, its heartwarming qualities are tone-deaf, and it's not 'funny' or absurd enough to be a satire. It feels like I took a kick in the balls after all the hype.