Tim's review of Jojo Rabbit
Category: TBD, it may be “just a movie” (that’s not a bad thing)
I watched the movie last night, Monday, January 6, 2020, with Kim.
My initial thoughts:
Going into the screening, I wanted to know very little about this movie. I hadn’t read any reviews (and still haven’t as I write this) and hadn’t even watched the entire trailer. What I knew, “it’s a movie by Waititi and it’s about a kid in Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend is Hitler.” That alone was enough to interest and intrigue me but I didn’t want to know anything more. The one sentence description I had was enough to make me curious but I was afraid knowing more would ruin the experience for me. Because, really, it’s enough to make you scratch your head and wonder what exactly is going on here. And it has Sam Rockwell.
Waititi sets a very definite ‘satire’ and humorous tone from the very beginning. Basically, the story is about Jojo, a 10-year-old boy growing up in Berlin during World War II. He is a member of the youth Nazis under the leadership of Rockwell’s character. Jojo lives at home with his mother, Johansson, who supports her son’s fanantical membership. Jojo’s father is out of the country fighting in the war. As the story progresses, Jojo discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in a hidden space in the house. Jojo is torn between turning her in and the fear of being punished by the Nazis if she’s discovered. Their relationship grows. As the war is coming to an end and the Allied troops are moving in on Berlin, Jojo begins to move beyond his blind fanaticism as he becomes aware of the realities of growing older.
Jojo Rabbit is a beautiful film to watch. The sets, the costumes, the colors, compositions, all felt perfect. And that’s one problem I had, it was maybe a bit too clean (at least the first ¾). In hindsight, I guess to help set the tone of it being a satire, it does have to be too clean. Realism could ruin the tone of the story being told.
The use of non-era music is well done and amusing. The soundtrack for this movie is a winner.
As I mentioned, I went in knowing very little about this movie. I immediately was pulled into the story.
Waititi walks the line of showing what the Nazis were doing and how the people of Berlin lived. I don’t know how factual the story is in terms of the lives and struggles of people in that situation, but Waititi does a convincing job of depicting the impact of war on its leaders and citizens. Most of the Nazis he introduces us to are people we kind of like in the end, which sounds odd but watch the movie and you’ll understand. Waititi is the actor playing Jojo’s Hitler - imaginary friend / inner voice. I’d like to know if he made that choice because he wanted to play the role (and does an amazing job) or if he wasn’t comfortable asking an actor to have to play the character.
The movie sucks you in with the humor, tells a story of people you can like or understand, Waititi moves us through a wide range of emotions and many times multiple emotions at once, and does a great job of leaving room for us to have our own thoughts and letting us make our own conclusions. It’s not a big thinker of a movie, but it does make you think.
The movie starts out with a lot of humor. For me, the slapstick and comedy went on a bit long. I began to worry that the whole movie was going to be slapstick and satire which started to make me a bit restless and it started to take me out of the movie.
I watched the Golden Globes and saw Roman Griffin Davis, the actor who plays the 10-year-old Jojo in the audience. He does a wonderful job as Jojo, the energy and enthusiasm of youth and the awakening of responsibility and getting older as the story progresses. All the actors do a wonderful job of playing roles with multiple layers of responsibility in an unsure time.
Walking out of the movie, I wondered why Waititi made this movie and why at this time. It seems like a parable about society of the past and present, but I wonder if there is more to it that I haven’t uncovered yet. The movie was beautiful to watch, the story was compelling and interesting, and you care about the characters.
Why the A- after all I’ve said good about this movie? My take the morning after watching the movie is that it felt a bit too good - an established director with established actors (for the most part), the emotional ride felt a little too controlled, and while Waititi does a great job of not giving us all the information and letting us think for ourselves, I would have liked a little less to give me some more room to think and make varied conclusions. Is it fair to fault them for being good at the jobs they’ve been developing for years? I don’t know, but I am.
Now I want to try to dig up copies of “How I Won The War” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061789 ) and “King of Hearts” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060908 ) . Not having seen those movies in decades, I am curious of any parallels.
Summary: Jojo Rabbit - Go see this beautiful movie about growing up and is a satire on war with great performances and soundtrack. See it on the big screen if/while you can.