Jojo Rabbit is a movie that will confuse some, annoy more, and anger most. It’s an “anti-hate” satire that’s been accused by some of heinous bowdlerization; of being a “Heartwarming Holocaust feel-good flick” that ignores, or paves over, the atrocities of the time.
Interestingly, though, I’m not seeing that much in the way of controversy about this film. Sure, there were the expected “OMG THIS IS THE MOST DANGEROUS FILM SINCE JOKER” headlines from the increasingly desperate clickbait-based “news” sites, but I guess those were non-starters, because there haven’t been that many. If I had to guess, I’d say Jojo Rabbit is too good-hearted and pure to really get that worked up over, in spite of its tricky material.
Again, that sentence might seem very strange to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie. A good-hearted and pure movie…about Nazis? Trust me, it works. I think that’s partially because this isn’t “really” about Nazis, or Nazism. The iconography is used, as well as some surface-level trappings, but really, it could be anything. What Jojo Rabbit is about is cliques. The Third Reich is portrayed as an elitist social club, and little Jojo is a lonely little kid who wants in with the big boys, to such an extent that he’s blind to the club’s rotten core.
Again, to many people, this will come across as wildly misguided. Writing it all out, I find myself amazed at what Taika Waititi has pulled off. From where I’m sitting, Jojo Rabbit is a perfectly judged film, a balancing act that spends nearly two hours riiiiiight on the edge of dipping into monstrously poor taste, without ever crossing the line.
In a couple of ways, what Taika Waititi has done here reminds me of a sillier Spike Lee film. It’s thrillingly fearless, with a direct line to your emotional core. It has no need for such things like “subtlety,” nor should it. But whereas the films of Mr. Lee are usually vivaciously angry, Waititi is stubbornly feel-good, even in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
This isn’t exactly smiles and sunshine always. There is darkness creeping around the edges of the film, occasionally taking stabs at its heart. Don’t believe for a second that the horrors of living in Nazi Germany are glossed over, or made completely frivolous. This is a kind movie, but it’s not a facetious one.
You know how I’d describe this movie? Cathartic. I needed to see this movie, in a way that I’m still at a loss to explain. A special word must go to Roman Griffin Davis, making his acting debut as young Jojo. Think about that; this is his first movie. This is his first job, period. What he does in this movie is extraordinary. He took a character that could’ve gone so wrong, and made him one of the most brilliant original characters of 2019. I found myself completely engaged with the movie because I was invested in the fate of Jojo’s soul.
Again, this won’t work for everyone. This is a wavelength movie if ever there was one; you gotta get on board with what it’s doing, or be completely lost at sea. I can imagine some out there will find themselves completely unsympathetic to Jojo’s plight. I can imagine some out there will find what Waititi does here completely wrongheaded. I can also easily imagine some out there feeling comfortable denouncing this movie without bothering to see it (I have absolutely no sympathy for that last group there). Regardless, as someone who actually saw the damn film, I found myself treated to a resonant, fully-realized film, one that knew exactly what it was doing, and did it with a smile.