Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★½

*long, heavy sigh*

I think ‘Jojo Rabbit’ occupies a weird place on a spectrum of appeal for me personally. It exists right at the center of this spectrum so perfectly I almost feel like it’s an accomplishment. Taika Waititi and co. managed to find a story and presentation thereof that so perfectly cements itself as something that could not work for me and yet also still manages to make me not hate it that I am totally and utterly convinced that a movie like this, in general, cannot work at all. Waititi is uncompromising here, and unlike Thor: Ragnarok, I feel like the final product is EXACTLY the film he wanted to make. It’s just such a damn shame that the movie is so confused it can’t tie its own thematically heavy-handed shoelace metaphor. 

When talking about movies that deal with the Holocaust, Nazis, and fascism in general, there is a fine line you have to walk upon to speak with a modicum or taste. Waititi boldly proclaims this to be an ‘anti-hate satire’ which is true, it is certainly anti-hate, but it’s the satire that ends up being the kryptonite. Usually with films like this, notably ‘Life is Beautiful’ (a movie I fucking HATE) the films in question treat their themes, ideas, and characters in one way in order to attack the topic from a specific angle. This, however, is where Jojo Rabbit falters. Usually saying your work is satire is just a lazy cover-up to ensure that your audience can’t put two and two together, but in this day and age, I understand having to say that outright. But the problem here is that I genuinely don’t think Jojo Rabbit satirizes anything. 

The portrayal of the Nazis in the film is not as hyperbolic as the dissenters of the film would have you believe. Yes, Sam Rockwell is playing the ‘good Nazi’ in an effort to make me lose all faith in his ability to pick decent roles post-3 Billboards. It’s not the way that it portrays his character that’s irresponsible, that’s perfectly fine, it’s that the dileneation exists at all that’s the issue. When the gestahpo show up, comically all dressed in black looking straight up like the villains of ‘Dark City’ I audibly groaned. Rockwell’s contribution to the narrative isn’t significant enough to justify making him a distinctly more moral character than the ACTUALLY evil Nazis. It’s not something that’s going to suddenly radicalize everyone or alter their viewpoint, but Jojo’s goals as a ‘satire’ and as a piece of art in general are at totally at odds with what it’s actively doing. And it leaves me with a question: what exactly was the point of this? What lessons did I learn from Jojo Rabbit? What struggle did I feel, what ideas were conveyed, what truly IS the message of the film beyond ‘love is powerful and being a Nazi is very bad’... it’s not a BAD thing, but I just have to wonder what I get out of it? I’m a sappy motherfucker, and I’m willing to forgive a lot if a movie has a heart, which this does, I mean for god’s sake I’m a fan of IT Chapter 2, but the difference here is that Jojo Rabbit isn’t genre fiction. Jojo Rabbit is a declaration, a defiant stand against hatred that is still felt strongly to this day... and it goes about it in all the wrong ways. The framing of the main characters perspective works for a little while, until the third act comes along and hits you like a fucking sledgehammer where the already fast and loose tone becomes totally and utterly indecipherable, making you wonder why it’s wasting so much time when it could’ve just hurried itself along and actively strengthened itself, instead we get the long drawn out slow motion scene where all I can hear is Ace Ventura smugly saying “War..... is hell,”

Jojo Rabbit accomplishes it’s goals, even if the execution is often shoddy to say the least, but the execution isn’t my issue, my issue is the GOAL. If you make narrative and thematic turns as bold as this movie does, be damn well sure you’re doing it for the right reasons... and honestly I can’t even fault the film there because I’m not sure what the reasons are. Taika wants us to know Nazis are bad. That love conquers all. That hatred is meaningless and deserves no place in the hearts of good honest men, but he delivers this tried and true message through means so utterly conventional and trite I have a hard time latching onto anything. Jojo Rabbit is schizophrenic, it doesn’t have the consistent strengths and weakness that other Nazi stories do, because it feels like it keeps changing what it’s contextualizng every single scene. I just sat there wondering what I was supposed to get out of this experience beyond being impressed by the filmmaking and tired of how the main narrative thrusts feel like they’re pushing our lead characters forward, but in every direction other than ‘straight ahead’

I meant what I said about the filmmaking too, it’s quite excellent. Very well edited, it’s a great looking movie, and it’s acted supremely well. Even a lot of the dialogue and jokes are worth noting, but the structure and theming is both everywhere and nowhere. 

Jojo Rabbit is a walking contradiction. It’s from the heart, but it’s messy in all the ways a movie like this should not be. It’s bold, yet shockingly unoriginal. It’s heartwarming, but also takes so many sobering detours it gets lost inside itself, even if theoretically the structure SHOULD work and compliment the themes, but instead it feels less like an exercise in malleable tone and more an exercise in poorly handling its good and interesting ideas. 

I respect the hell out of Taika for even attempting this, even if the material would be shoddy in even the most capable of hands, but he bit off way more than he can chew in my eyes. A lot of people will really love this movie because texturally speaking it’s got a lot going for it, but any time I thought too hard about one specific element, a weakness revealed itself. For every funny joke, heartfelt emotional beat, or good piece of direction, there is woefully misguided moment or handling that make the movie exist in a limbo. 

This movie has good intentions. Great ones, even. Ones I respect and think we need right now, I just think we needed a better storyteller to handle/write it. No matter how pure your intentions, as painful as this is to say considering the times we live in today with the rise of home grown fascism, if the road to Hell is still paved with these intentions, it still doesn’t change where you end up when you arrive there.

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