By Megan Bianco
It’s 2020 and I’m still burnt out on films about World War II.
For this past awards season, we managed to get two more—Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life and Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. To their credit, these films couldn’t be more different. But it still doesn’t stop me from wondering: How many more times will we get a tragic or bittersweet love story set in early 1940s Europe? How many more times will we get a tale of mismatched friends in Nazi Germany? How many more spy movies will be set in WWII?
The Holocaust and the end of the war are among the biggest, most important moments in human history. But Hollywood can expand on other historical events, too. Sam Mendes’ 1917 gave us a rare feature centered on World War I, but stylistically it felt like a spiritual sequel to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). For all these reasons, as well as because of the mixed reception from critics, I postponed watching Jojo Rabbit
Waititi’s film is a lot of things, but it isn’t ordinary. If we have to get yet another WWII period piece, at least the New Zealand director puts a unique spin on it. He plays Adolf Hitler himself, as a goofy, imaginary character fantasized by a 10-year-old boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) in Nazi Germany. Because the film is from the point of view of a little boy, the feature has a light-hearted tone and style to fit his perception of the then current political environment.
Hitler Youth training camp is portrayed like a summer camp while Jojo and his friends are ignorant to the fact that they’re supporting racism and genocide. Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is secretly against the war and German nationalism, and hopes her son will grow out of his jingoistic naivety. Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen play the trio of camp leaders in charge.
Many film fans—including myself—went into Jojo Rabbit worried whether a murderous dictator would be portrayed in a comedically jovial fashion. Fortunately, while he is used as comic relief, it’s not forgotten just how terrible Hitler was — particularly when the audience is rudely awakened by the end of the second act to the stark reality. Waititi has about 10 minutes of screen time, with the real heart of the film being the relationship between Jojo and a Jewish teenage girl played by Thomasin McKenzie. Their scenes as well as the performances by Davis, Johansson and McKenzie are the best parts of the picture.
And yet, even with this, I still had trouble completely appreciating the full effort. Many I’m just tired of the genre, but as subversive as Waititi tried to be, the story’s plot was actually pretty safe in the final execution. I’m not sure if Jojo Rabbit deserves six Oscar nominations, let alone for Best Picture. But at least it wasn’t dull.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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