Thursday, October 24, 2019

Movie with Abe: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit
Directed by Taika Waititi
Released October 18, 2019

The subject of whether tragedy plus time really does equal comedy has been vigorously debated over the years, and there is still no clear consensus. “Life is Beautiful” and “Inglourious Basterds” both created controversy upon release, and the documentary “The Last Laugh” asked the question of whether the Holocaust can in fact provide fodder for jokes. “The Death of Stalin” posited a humorous interpretation of deadly serious events, and now an even more outlandish vision seeks to extrapolate satire from ideologies that devastated the lives of many people.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old boy eager to help the Nazi cause, which he discusses frequently with his imaginary friend, who happens to be Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). When an attempt to demonstrate his courage leaves him injured, Jojo begins spending more time at home, where he discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). Initially disgusted by her presence, Jojo realizes that he cannot turn her in for fear of him and his mother being implicated in harboring her and begins a relationship based on gleaning details of all the things that make Jews so terrible for the guidebook he plans to write.

This is a film that opens broadly, reminiscent most of a mix of Adam Sandler and Wes Anderson, particularly in its casting of Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson in comic roles as two prominent figures in the Nazi party charged with shaping young Nazi minds. Hitler is portrayed in an extremely silly fashion, completely unserious when compared with the driven Jojo. Rosie, whose husband is away at war, seeks to save her son from the hateful person he is becoming as she contributes to other underground resistance efforts, providing a stable and solid foundation for a very different film than this one often seems to be.

While this film may not go over the same way with all audiences, the quality of its performances should. Davis impresses in his debut film role with tremendous energy and timing, and McKenzie turns in a spectacular follow-up to her breakthrough part in “Leave No Trace.” The two of them often feel like the most mature part of this film, with Johansson also delivering an endearing and affecting turn. Though some audience members were erupting riotously with laughter, it did take some time for this reviewer to get on board with this concept, which gradually demonstrates its value. It might be parody more than satire, which itself is still worth some contemplation and consideration.


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