“Jojo Rabbit” is an odd duck of a movie.
Some of that is to be expected from a story about a confused 10-year-old German boy during World War II whose imaginary friend is a spoiled-brat version of his hero — Adolf Hitler — and whose mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
There are moments that I thought this was the funniest, most original film I’d seen this year. That came in the first hour.
Then there are moments when, as the film attempts to be more meaningful than a comedy about Nazi sentiments and how they too closely mirror some of today’s sentiments, that it runs out of steam.
That was the second half of “Jojo Rabbit.”
The bottom line is that the message is a good one (in a world full of love and hate, choose love), but it’s also too simplistic for a film that arrives with such high expectations.
“Jojo Rabbit” won the People’s Choice Award at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, an award won in the last decade by films including “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Green Book.”
Those four films all went on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
“Jojo Rabbit” should not follow in that lineup anymore than “Green Book” should have won last year.
That’s because both are movies with the best of intentions, but noble ideas aren’t enough to make a movie great; both jump off from ambitious big-picture ideas and end up playing it too safe.
“Jojo Rabbit” does an excellent job of mocking Nazi ideals in the early going, to big laughs. But it doesn’t follow up on that with anything that takes its intended satire to a deeper, darker place, which would have been appropriate.
Because, you know, Nazis.
I enjoyed the decision to make fantasy Hitler essentially a Looney Tunes character (he’s childishly indignant, eating unicorns and exiting scenes by jumping out windows).
And I knew the premise was a silly one, so the film’s many anachronisms were amusing.
Like the pop soundtrack (David Bowie, for example) and everything about a Nazi woman played by Rebel Wilson, from her exclamations (“OMGawd!”) to her clearly #MeToo dialogue (her addressing a Hitler Youth group: “I’ve had 18 kids for Germany. It’s a great year to be a girl.”).
And I embraced newcomer Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo, the cherub-faced little boy who has become a fanatic as a Hitler Youth, and who believes ludicrous stories about Jews having horns, and who swears his allegiance to what has become a losing cause.
The opening scene that shows him running down the street to the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but with black-and-white images not of fans at those early concerts, but of crowds cheering Hitler at rallies, is perfection.
It is exceptional both in its depiction as both comedic farce and as chilling historical context and contrast.
A man with charisma who shouts outlandish statements to his followers at rallies, making promises he won’t keep and spreading misinformation: It’s an image we’ve seen before, and one we’re seeing again today, says filmmaker Taika Waititi.
Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”), who is both Maori and of Jewish heritage, has created something original in his self-proclaimed “anti-hate satire” based on the Christine Leunens book, “Caging Skies.”
And he’s assembled quite a cast, including Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s loving but Hitler-hating mother, with whom he shares some lovely moments amid all the chaos of the war’s final days.
And Waititi himself, who’s having the time of his life playing Hitler as a buffoon.
And Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen (“Game of Thrones”), Jojo’s Hitler Youth trainers and barely concealed gay men, pushing Waititi’s joke in a different direction.
But “Jojo Rabbit” is pretty much a one-joke movie, with that joke balancing out the story of a little boy’s lost innocence.
It’s a good joke for a while, but after two hours it felt like beating a dead unicorn.Featured