Taika Watiti‘s Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight/Disney, 10.18), an absurdist black comedy, is seemingly destined to rock the Oscar race if — I say “if” — the New Academy Kidz have anything to say about it. For this is definitely a New Academy Kidz type of film. It’s ballsy, cockeyed, nutso, out there…it is, after a fashion, sardonic hipness incarnate. In flagrant quotes. And it certainly resides in its own surrealistic realm, which I respected as far as it went. It doesn’t believe in anything other than its own determinations, and that’s fine.
It’s basically an Impressionable Hitler-Youth Perspective of Viennese Naziland, broadly played for satiric effect. Satire aimed at simpletons, I should say, but it’s all so saturated in winking irony so I actually meant that it’s aimed at, you know, “simpletons.” It’s a stylistic wank-off and about a quarter-inch deep, but there was a seasoned industry guy sitting behind me who couldn’t stop laughing, and heartily at that. At one point I half turned in my seat as if to say “what the fuck?”, but I didn’t turn all the way around.
I don’t know everything. I’m not God or the reincarnation of James Agee or some kind of Ultimate Arbiter. I’m just a bigmouth with a platform. If the guy sitting behind me found it hilarious, whom am I to say he’s wrong or short-sighted? Or that the New Academy Kidz who believe it’ll be nominated for Best Picture are living on Planet Uranus? They may be right.
Watiti’s basic message is that “ethnic hatred is not only evil but stupid and pathetic” and that “anyone with a heart and soul will understand the truth of this sooner or later.” I for one agree with this assessment. Anyone opposed?
Roman Griffin Davis plays the Hitler youthie, but he never seems radically committed to Aryan supremacy and/or notions of the thousand-year Reich. (He struck as a none-too-bright softie, a poseur.) Watiti plays an imaginary Adolf Hitler goofball by way of a lobotomized Soupy Sales figure. Plus the film has a progressive-minded mother (Scarlett Johansson) who was time-machined in from 2019. Plus Sam Rockwell — easily the best actor playing the funniest role — as Captain Klutzendorf, a Nazi captain who runs a Hitler Youth camp, and also propelled by 21st Century hipster attitudes. (I just lied about Rockwell’s character — his name is actually Captain Klenzendorf.) Thomasin McKenzie plays Elsa, a take-charge Jewish girl hiding out in JoJo’s attic.
My second favorite character and performance is Jojo’s fat Nazi pally, played in a likably laidback way by Archie Yates.
The strongest influences noted by Toronto critics were Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” number in The Producers and a kind of highly poised, deliberately antiseptic Wes Anderson aesthetic — a certain toy-shop tweeness or ironic “lay on the fake icing” quality. I agree with these measurements. JoJo Rabbit is Wes Anderson meets “Springtime for Hitler.”
I honestly prefer the Max Fischer Players in terms of realism, production design, wit, visual panache. But I understand and “respect” what JoJo Rabbit is up to. The people who love it aren’t wrong — they’re just easy lays. There’s nothing wrong with being an easy lay. I’ve been one myself from time to time, and I’ll be one again when the right film comes along.