A young boy in Hitler's army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Jojo Rabbit is the latest film from the new hot-shot director Taika Watiti. Hot off the success of Thor: Ragnarok, Watiti ditches the blockbuster and this time round aims at appeasing Hollywood critics in hopes of walking home with some awards. However, the response from the hill has been somewhat polarizing: no doubt that ‘Humorous Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany Black Comedy’ doesn’t exactly generate praise.
However, Director Taika Watiti’s sin is not his light-hearted approach of Nazi Germany, but rather that the film lacks any originality, it being entirely derivative of better-known films. It is almost as if producers gave Watiti a chance to go Wes Anderson-esque on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Jojo Rabbit follows the life of a 10-year old German boy (Jojo) fascinated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, who discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his house. Plot-wise the most important thing to remember is that given the film’s narrative is told entirely from Jojo’s point-of-view, Nazi Germany is intentionally represented through the imagination/ignorance of a 10-year old. Thus the alleged permissibility of the Hitler Youth, the light-heartedness of certain Nazi figures, and the characterization of Jewish people in the film are not political statements nor cheap comedic stunts but rather evoking a strange combination of sympathy and pity for the playful youth of the protagonist. Watiti weaponizes this dramatic irony to give a thoughtful and sympathetic coming-of-age story whilst at the same time foreboding the manipulable nature of youths into believing in movements with messiah complexes. And one could applaud Wattiti for his craft, had it not been covered extensively by other films, making Jojo Rabbit a bit of overkill. Watiti essentially re-packages The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and calls it his own (in fact Jojo’s sidekick looks awfully like Moonrise Kingdom’s protagonist after a good ol’ Christmas roast). This is only made worse by the fact that Jojo Rabbit does a worse job than these other films by rushing through its plot, characters, and themes in its relatively tight runtime (108 minutes).
The real dramatic irony is the film’s evident intention to be an Oscar contender, as evinced by the reputable cast. Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Reek from Game of Thrones (testicles et al.), and Rebel Wilson to name a few – all searching for Oscar accolades. And while their performances are commendable and entertaining, the film’s plot doesn’t give them any leeway to develop their characters in any meaningful way. The consequence of this is that when the scenes that are meant to pull our heartstrings finally come, they feel shallow and any expected, if not resulting, tears shed undeserved. Ultimately Jojo’s interactions and ‘relationships’ with other characters in the film become nothing more than plot devices to get Jojo from Point A to Point B.
As for the cinematography and the production design of the film, Watiti seemed heavily influenced by Wes Anderson’s camera-style and sets and translated them into a Nazi Germany setting to give it a playful tone, and it works. The use of German dubbed ‘I’m a Believer’ and similar contemporary rock songs are effective in creating a light-hearted infantile mood. It is only a shame that the technical set-up was let down by the lack of narrative momentum to give it the Oscar-punch it so obviously was aiming for.
To reiterate: Jojo Rabbit isn’t an offensive film, nor is it a horrible film either. It’s just a half-baked derivative of better films that came before it. As such, one is better off catering to the source material that inspired it.
- Humorous Tropes
- Interesting blend of light-hearted filming with serious subject matter.
- Solid Acting
- Derivative of Better Films
- Lack of Character Development
- Rushed Plot