Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019, Czech Republic/New Zealand/USA)

               Few potential Oscar contenders this year have generated as much controversy as Taika Waititi’s comedy Jojo Rabbit. In the vein of other comedies that make light of the Nazis, such as Life as Beautiful, Waititi’s film is bound to alienate some viewers on the light treatment of its subject matter alone. The film concerns a young boy – Johannes or “Jojo” - in Nazi Germany who aspires to join the ranks of Hitler’s inner circle. When he refuses to strangle a rabbit at his youth camp, the guards mock his cowardice with the nickname “Jojo Rabbit”. Jojo soon discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his attic. Jojo’s gradual warming up to her forms the main narrative arc of the plot. Scarlett Johansson also features as Jojo’s mother, a resistance activist who hides this activity from her son. Waititi himself provides much of the comic relief as Jojo’s imaginary friend version of Hitler.
               Other critics have labeled Jojo RabbitMoonreich Kingdom”, and the title is apt. The comparison to Wes Anderson is strong here, both in the heavy emphasis on pop music (the film opens with a montage set to the German version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), quirky and colorful visuals, summer camp setting, and budding coming-of-age romance between two opposites.
               While the performances are quite good – Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo is excellent – the film leaves something to be desired overall. Waititi for the most part avoids the schmaltz of a film like Life is Beautiful, but for the most part his satire feels a big fangless. This may be that the film plays the caricature a bit too broadly – while Jojo Rabbit takes place in Nazi Germany, it could just as easily take place in any dictatorial and murderous regime. Additionally, the film feels that it could have been both funnier and more daring. Overall, Jojo plays it too safe.



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