The Best Picture Nominees: Jojo Rabbit

| February 2, 2020
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The 92nd Academy Awards are just days away, so this week I am taking a look at each of the nominees individually. Are they worth it? Let’s take a look.

Image result for Jojo Rabbit

Let’s face it, there are worse things that Taika Watiti could have done with the money that he made from Thor Ragnarok. To make an abstract satire of Hitler and Nazism and then to cast himself as Adolf Hitler took some kind of nerve and, it should be said, without the success of Ragnarok it probably would not have happened. I’m glad that he was able to make the film that he wanted to make and I’m glad that he didn’t go for some pedestrian comedy or vacuous ten-dollar action picture.

but . . .

Jojo Rabbit is a seriously misaligned movie that waffles back and forth between hilarious comedy and dark resonating human drama.  It is a bold concept, focused on the gaze that ten-year old Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) has on Adolf Hitler at a moment in history when the Third Reich was crumbling around Der Fuherer’s mustache.  Never-the-less, Jojo is so enamored of Germany’s leader that he even has Hitler as an imaginary friend, played by Watiti himself.

The film has drawn mixed reviews since premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last year and not just because of its jolly portrayal of Nazis. While I can admire Watiti for his originality, I cannot get over that crippling tone problem. The first ten minutes of the film are the funniest opening of any film probably in the last ten years, imagining a boisterous summer camp for the Hitlerjugend run by a drunken Colonel Klenzendorf, played by Sam Rockwell.

I was laughing for those first few minutes, but then the movie took a hard right turn into dead-serious drama, it derailed that jolly tone and Watiti has an impossible time trying to recoup that loss.  Jojo figures out that his mother (Supporting nominee Scarlett Johansson) is secretly anti-Nazi and hiding a Jewish girl in their house. Through the revelation, little Jojo comes to terms with who and what Hitler really represents.

That’s an odd fit for what started out as a jolly, whacky comedy. Many times, throughout the movie, Watiti tries to pull the movie back to the goofy tone of the opening scenes but it’s such a hard contrast that ultimately the movie feels confused and unfocused. We’re not sure how we are suppose to feel from one moment to the next because the film keeps having to move between to polar opposites.

Jojo Rabbit certainly has a point. Watiti calls it an “Anti-hate satire” but there needed to be a much better narrative here. The message is clear but the execution is not.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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