(director/writer: Taika Waititi; screenwriter: from the novel by Christine Leunens; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare; editor: Tom Eagles; music: Michael Giacchino; cast: Taika Waititi (Adolph Hitler), Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Betzler), Sam Rockwell (Captain Klenendorph), Scarlett Johansson (Rosie Betzler), Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa Korr), Rebel Wilson (Fräulein Rahm ), Stephen Merchant (Captain Deertz), Alfie Allen (Finkel), Archie Yates (Yorkie); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2019)
“Smugly tells us that the answer to counter Nazi hate is through love.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The playful New Zealand-born writer director Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”/”Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), who happens to be half-Jewish, has the audacity to give us a feel-good Holocaust comedy, falsely thinking that this superficial satire can get to the truth of how society is damaged in these dark days of daily Trump absurdities and racist behavior. It purports to be a political satire that is vehemently against hate, but is not funny and its serious side only offers mawkish sentiments against hate. Waititi, who directs while dressed-up as Hitler, plays his young star’s invisible friend, as he adapts the film from the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. It’s a work of supposedly hipster black comedy sensibilities that entertains more than enlightens, as it smugly tells us that the answer to counter Nazi hate is through love (tell that to those Jews in the camps!).
The adorable 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth camp and a fatherless boy in 1945 Germany, whose imaginary friend is an historical revisionist buffoon-like Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). The kid is shaken when he learns his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden in the attic a Jewish teenage girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).
To protect his family Jojo fails to report this, and figures he will use the opportunity to study her to observe how really bad are the Jews. But while attending to her, he learns that he might have been misled by his imaginary Führer friend.
This theme has fun with the Holocaust, something that has been put to film many times before (such as with little success in the 1997 Roberto Benigni film Life is Beautiful). Too bad “Jojo Rabbit” offers nothing new.
Though there are a few slightly amusing scenes, the pic becomes repetitive and loses energy after a snappy beginning. Waititi plays a one-dimensional main character as well as you can but when his character can’t dance to a different tune, the pic’s lack of imagination hampers its growth and things never become as funny or as informative as intended.
If there’s any complexity, it’s in the role of the conflicted mom (with Johansson’s commanding performance as a believable real person and not as a caricature like all those around her) allowing her son to train under the nerdy bigot Gestapo agent Captain Deertz (Stephen Merchant) and not say anything in public about her repulsion of the Nazis so as not to arouse any unneeded suspicions on her family. It’s the only time a hint of a real tension creeps into the film (the movie never gets at the terrible Nazi atrocities, and it even benignly relays to us like Trump did at the White Nationalist march in Virginia that there were good people on both sides). Other Nazi caricatures were played to no avail by Hitler camp counselor Sam Rockwell and the mean-spirited secretary Rebel Wilson.
Waititi makes it into a so-so tame political satirical film that took no risks though pretending to be risky. It left me not feeling it.
REVIEWED ON 9/15/2019