Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★½

I don't really know what this is nor whether this is the right time for whatever it is.

I do like Taika Waititi but he has made it quite hard to fully support his films. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the only film I've seen by him where his style and decision making marry together to make something that really works. Otherwise he has struggled with tonal clashes throughout most of his films and in the one outright comedy film he's made, What We Do in the Shadows, he cast himself in a pivotal role and proved to be the worst thing in it.

Factor in his continued involvement with Marvel and he's fallen short, with me, of what I think he's capable of and what I would like to see him achieve. Maybe, just maybe, he's also in danger of becoming a one trick pony. The black comedy-drama meshing present in Jojo Rabbit seems to have become his calling card. If he's going to keep falling back on that, then he has to pick his targets more cleverly.

It might have worked beautifully on Hunt for the Wilderpeople and it may work wonders on Next Goal Wins. I certainly hope so. But in Jojo Rabbit? Not really, no. I say this not as someone who doesn't believe that we shouldn't feature wartime Nazism as a comedy element in art, far from it. I'm saying that as someone who doesn't think the sort of broad, silly comedy present in Jojo Rabbit can work side-by-side with some serious war drama.

Waititi casting himself isn't a problem this time round, because whoever played Imaginary Hitler would have, presumably, been tasked with playing the role the same way. The problem is that the slapstick, doofus humour that mostly surrounds him doesn't have any real purpose to it at all. What is he saying here? That Nazis are dumb? Is that really it? Way to go, Taika, you sure showed them?

I think we're way beyond the point where that sort of thing will 'do'. Especially in the current climate, where fascism and right-wing extremism is seeing a disturbing resurgence in many parts of the world. I'd feel more comfortable, and find it funnier, if there was some actual depth and purpose to the lampooning of such individuals and organisations.

I don't believe just eliminating the Hitler scenes from this would solve all its problems as there's still very silly, surface level humour present elsewhere. The only consistently serious base in the film is the relationship between Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson. To my mind, there was more than enough here to have created an almost complete film out of, and I'm quite sure it would have been a really good one too.

There's enough emotional development and chemistry between the three of them that almost all of their scenes prove to be really satisfactory dramatically. Additionally, any comedy between them tends to be of the gentler and more fitting variety. Because that's my other main problem with the rest of Jojo Rabbit - it's just not very funny.

I probably laughed no more than once. I'm not sure if describing the humour as falling flat here quite sums up my feelings on it - it just didn't seem to have a place. Much like the Hitler stuff, the Sam Rockwell / Alfie Allen / Rebel Wilson goofing around just didn't hit the mark at all, despite the best efforts of those three. I don't know if it's all dragged down by the seriousness of events going on around it all or if it's just, simply, not humorous.

The whole film just feels like a giant misjudgement, either hamstrung by Waititi not being able to escape his comedy-drama comfort zone or material that was intrinsically flawed in the first place. Johansson's wonderful flighty performance is seriously good work even by her standards and McKenzie confirms the talent she first showed in Leave No Trace, once again proving where the real heart and potential of this film lay. I just don't really know what was aimed for here or even if it needs to exist at all.

Steve G liked these reviews