A 10-year-old Nazi loses faith in his creed.
The zany new Nazi satire that’s being touted as an Oscar contender “risks going wrong in a dozen different ways,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Still, it “manages to avoid at least half of them,” because “the humor is so audacious” and the psychological insights about growing up in 1940s Germany are so startling. The title character is a fully indoctrinated 10-year-old with an imaginary friend who is none other than Adolf Hitler. “Jojo Rabbit is sharpest when it dares to be funny,” but the tone softens after Jojo discovers that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding a Jewish girl in a crawl space of their home.
Director Taika Waititi cast himself in the Hitler role, and early on “he wrings plenty of absurd gags out of his character’s imaginary status,” said David Sims in TheAtlantic.com. Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson play the buffoonish leaders of Jojo’s Hitler Youth camp, and they, too, make Nazi ideology seem fittingly insane. But Waititi, a Jewish Maori director known for Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is “trying to strike an impossible balance here.” Once history’s grim, violent reality begins seeping into the story, “the jokes fall flatter and flatter.” Worse, “Jojo Rabbit never risks actually disturbing its audience,” said John Semley in The New Republic. Instead of implicating viewers in society’s horrors, it makes haters laughable, then retreats to “a warmed-over, feel-good humanism.” Real satire “draws blood, not weepy tears.”
“Although I don’t love Jojo Rabbit,” said David Edelstein in NYMag.com, “I love that it exists,” Yes, great satire is tougher, but how many people actually watch—much less enjoy—pitch-black horror-comedies like 2017’s The Death of Stalin? Waititi’s “hodgepodge” dramedy, on the other hand, could be a hit thanks to its sentimentality and its three “utterly charming” young co-stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Archie Yates. “People who can get past the shock of funny Nazis will laugh and cry and feel inspired.” If nothing else, “it’s a middlebrow triumph.” ■