New Zealand director Taika Waltiti’s new movie “Jojo Rabbit”will not be widely released until October 18th but a few lucky patrons were able to catch an early screening at the Toronto Film Festival. Their reactions were positive, and the film won the audience award putting it in line, if past years winners are any indication, for a possible Oscar nod. Waititi was also awarded the Festival’s new Ebert Director Award.
Waltiti is known for directing wacky comedies such as “What We Do In The Shadows,” “Hunt For The Wilderpeople,” and the borderline parody Marvel hit, “Thor: Ragnarok.” His latest film, “Jojo Rabbit” follows this same vein of outrageous, yet charming humor, but there is one key difference… “Jojo Rabbit” focuses on Germany’s Nazi party during World War II, making its hilarity just a touch more complicated.
More specifically, “Jojo Rabbit” is about a young boy in the Hitler Youth. Like many German kids of the time, he aspires to be a Nazi soldier when he grows up. He buys into the party’s ideologies and believes their propaganda. That is until he comes face to face with a Jewish girl and learns, despite what the Nazis have taught him, that she is harmless, pleasant, and appealing.
On the surface, the premise seems like the bones of a complex and sophisticated historical drama. With Waltiti behind the camera, though, such is obviously not the case. Instead of dry historical accuracy, Waltiti makes the Hitler Youth look like a summer camp filled with likable children and goofy leaders. Most boldly perhaps, Waltiti himself plays Adolf Hitler in the movie, but rather than depict him as the brutal dictator that he was, Waltiti makes him out to be the kind-uncle archetype, a socially inept, hilarious motivator and idol for the children in the story.
Artful Comedy of a Bygone Era
Of course, radical World War II and Nazi-themed comedies have existed in the past. From Quinten Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards” all the way back to Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 “The Great Dictator,” filmmakers have mocked the Nazi party through satire for generations. “Jojo Rabbit” will be no different in that regard. Obviously, given the current political climate in America and the world, a movie about the buffoonery and absurdity surrounding Nazi ideologies is somewhat timely. It will probably be impossible to watch this movie from an apolitical perspective while retaining a clear conscious.
At the same time, though, “Jojo Rabbit” is not a Nazi satire or comedy quite like we’ve seen before. Despite the heavy subject matter, the movie doesn’t look particularly dark. In fact, it looks incredibly playful, almost like a children’s movie. In many ways, it seems reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which essentially turned a kids summer camp story into an artistic film for adults. “Jojo Rabbit” looks like it will do the same thing, but then go the extra subversive mile by putting that summer camp in Germany circa 1939.
The trailer effectively presents this by including German versions of heartwarming American songs like The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer,”and by showing examples of slapstick comedy and cute gags around the relationships between our young protagonists. The characters—even those playing Nazis—all seem to have endearing qualities to them. It looks heartfelt, and almost kid friendly, as the children banter, grow up, and learn about the world all before the harrowing and bizarre backdrop of World War II Europe.
So where do we place “Jojo Rabbit”? Is it a movie about friendship? A romance? A historical piece? A coming-of-age-comedy? A feel-good movie? Who is its target audience and what is its intended message? Is it a social commentary? If so, then for who and on what? All of these questions are impossible to answer in any general sense right now, for the movie looks of no particular genre and is unique on so many levels.
The only thing that seems predictable about “Jojo Rabbit” is that it will make us laugh and that it will make us think
There is no guarantee that it will leave us feeling any better or worse about the world, that we will necessarily learn anything from it, or if we will exit the theater any less confused than we are right now. All we know is that we don’t know what to expect, and we are all excited to see what Taika Waltiti has in stores… excited, but with a hint of respectful, perhaps even nervous, reservation.
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