PRO: Go, Jojo! – David Mouriquand Set during the death throes of WWII, Jojo Rabbit follows young German scamp Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), who happens to have Adolf Hitler (played by director Taika Waititi himself) as a buffoonish imaginary best friend. Some may baulk at the idea of a Nazi comedy, but from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Mel Brooks’ The Producers to David Wnendt’s Look Who’s Back, there’s plenty of precedent. Jojo Rabbit stakes its claim in this cinematic pantheon, with its sincerest moments even echoing Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (minus some of the overt sentimentalism). It has been billed as an “anti-hate satire”, and it’s a shame that it isn’t more daring, as it frequently nibbles when it could bite. But even if its satire is a bit thin on the ground, Waititi makes up for it with his signature blend of droll, playful pathos, and a smattering of Pythonesque humour. His filmmaking feels more indebted to Wes Anderson this time, especially with the (excellent) use of anachronistic needle-drops that range from David Bowie to Tom Waits. Even if it won last year’s much-coveted Toronto People’s Choice Award, which is usually a gateway accolade for Oscar nominations and, in some cases, a major predictor of Oscar glory, I doubt a golden baldie is in Jojo’s future. This crowd-pleaser about the absurdity and dangers of blind fanaticism undoubtedly has its faults; but whether or not the tonal balancing act works for you, it’s hard not to admire an Oscar contender as eccentric as Jojo Rabbit. CON: No, Jojo! – Yun-hua Chen I am all up for quirkiness and absurdity, but Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a bizarre and disturbingly off-balance jumble between slapstick and the horrors of WWII through the coming of age of the 10-year-old Jojo. It means to entertain, but sadly lacks Chaplin’s poignancy in The Great Dictator or Benigni’s perfectly executed sentimentalism in Life is Beautiful. In a highly problematic juxtaposition between the footage of Hitler being cheered by an ecstatic crowd in Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will and the soundtrack of The Beatles’ “Komm, gib mir deine Hand“, Waititi’s parallel between a dictator and rock stars is overly simplistic if not outright tasteless. Waititi himself plays the role of Hitler, who only exists in Jojo’s head as the imaginary friend and appears to be more of a summer camp counsellor; he even offers some rather wise advice as a mentor (“Be the rabbit!”). As for Scarlett Johansson, playing Jojo’s glamorous mother, she navigates through hardships of wartime with the help of a Tyrolean hat and green dirndl cardigan. And, among all other absurdities which make one frown rather than laugh, all the characters speak English with an exaggerated textbook German accent without blinking an eye. There is nothing wrong about mocking murderous regimes and we might find a tragically comical aspect in adversity, but this film, without provoking hearty enough laughter or potent enough catharsis, makes me wonder if we truly need another WWII story as cheap-seat entertainment.
Jojo Rabbit | Directed by Taika Waititi (New Zealand, Czech Republic, USA 2019), with Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson. Starts Jan 23.
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