By Bradley Lane
Writer-director Taika Waititi started turning heads in 2014 with his vampire horror satire, What We Do in the Shadows. However, for most he became a household name with his marvel film debut, Thor: Ragnarok. The latter film served as a soft reboot of Thor’s character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and was well received by both fans of the series and critics alike. Coasting off the success of Thor, Waititi finally has the ability to make the movie he wants to make, Jojo Rabbit.
Set at the twilight of World War II, Jojo Rabbit follows the ideological journey of the 10-year-old Jojo. Having been raised in Germany during wartime, he has been indoctrinated in the Hitler Youth from a young age. He idolizes Nazis and Nazi iconography so much that the impressionable Jojo’s voice of comfort and own imaginary friend is none other than a fictionalized Hitler, played by the, partly Jewish, Waititi himself.
Positioning itself as an “anti-hate” satire of German fascism, I was excited going into this movie. After all, fascism is an ideology full of contradictions and logical holes uniquely positioned to be exploited by comedy. And if there is one thing that fascists detest more than anything, it’s the refusal to take them seriously, to mock and to belittle them until their hate can no longer be heard, a la the musical numbers in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret.
Unfortunately, Waititi’s vision for JoJo Rabbit plays its cards very, very safe. The jokes at Nazi expense are one-dimensional and typically incredibly, almost frustratingly surface level. The actual bulk of the story is spent on developing a relationship between two characters that lacks subtlety, depth, or even entertainment value.
It isn’t all bad; Waititi’s Hitler is mostly funny. Acting not as Hitler the historical figure, but rather as Hitler Jojo’s friend and confidant. An adult Hitler parroting ridiculous notions about the world that only a child could believe is almost Waititi’s only joke, that is albeit a pretty funny one. Additionally, Sam Rockwell’s turn as a not-so-serious Hitler youth camp counselor is also a welcome addition that handles his character’s struggle with a tact and wit the rest of the film fails to offer.
The whole film just feels like a wasted opportunity to make a much better film. Almost every character feels underdeveloped or entirely unnecessary. The drama feels contrived and ultimately fails to communicate anything meaningful about the deadly serious matter at which it is trying to poke fun.
Despite a winning concept and great cast, Jojo Rabbit is almost instantly forgettable after first viewing. -2.5/5 stars