Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: "Jojo Rabbit" is several important messages wrapped in hard (truth) candy

Jojo Rabbit Review
There seems to be a current outcry that comedy doesn't work anymore. That certain topics are off-limits. That people are too offended and too uptight for "real comedy" anymore. All I can say is I am glad something like "Jojo Rabbit" exists so I can point to that to shut those naysayers up. There is a fine line between finding the humor in something dark or off-color and then being a total prick and calling it humor. Comedy is not even close from falling apart and dying. If we get more people making movies like "Jojo Rabbit," people like Taika Waititi are pushing the genre and the medium forward and we will all be richer for it.

I have said already that Taika Waititi is a comedic genius. "What We Do In The Shadows" was the first Waititi movie I saw. A mockumentary about a group of vampires who live together, and how they live out their lives. Its proof that it doesn't matter how many vampire movies you've seen, you can still approach these archetypes in very unique and original ways. Then there's "The Hunt For The Wilderpeople." Its a movie that I can barely describe, but it announced Julian Dennison as a capable actor and its hilarious from start to finish. I've begun to thaw surrounding my feelings on "Thor: Ragnarok." Those first two "Thor" movies are pretty cookie-cutter and dare I say, bland. Waititi was unafraid to throw out the original Thor models and just start over with something else. The end result was a Marvel movie unlike any other. 

He may have leveled up quite a bit with "Jojo Rabbit," a movie that feels like the wildest mixture of "Duck Soup," "Schindler's List" and "The Great Dictator." Except, its really not like any of those movies either. It's not quite the movie you think it is, and that is important as we navigate through the rest of this review. In the simplest terms, "Jojo Rabbit" is a comedy about a boy who wants to become a Nazi and runs around with an imaginary Adolph Hitler. Now, many of you may have just vomited in your mouth a bit, reading that last sentence. As you read on, remember that context matters on every front.

Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo, a boy who has become smitten with the Nazi way and will do anything to prove himself at his Hitler Youth Camp. The thing is, everything about Nazism seems pretty rad to Jojo, except anything to do with killing, and this gets him a lot of flack from the older boys in the Youth Camp. Jojo will do anything to prove himself meaningful to Germany's cause, but if he is unwilling to use his knife in combat, how will he ever be any use to Germany's cause? He is alienated for having no father, who vanished under unknown causes. Which may reinforce Jojo's need to belong to this group, he is adrift, which may explain his overwhelming need to become Hitler's best friend.

The movie really picks up when we find out Jojo's mother Rosie (Scarlet Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home, which alarms Jojo to a high degree. Elsa and Jojo begin hating each other with a furious passion. Jojo then sees a silver lining, one that could get him closer to Germany's cause. He plans to write a book about Jews, and he rigorously begins to interview Thomasin, hoping to use the information to get closer to the Top Brass in the Third Reich. Elsa, in turn, begins to make up the craziest falsehoods as fodder for Jojo's book, because Jojo promised as long Elsa participates, she will be kept a secret.

This is the material that pushes "Jojo Rabbit" passed simple satire. If we are ever going to extinguish hate anywhere in the world, we have to be willing to stare at the void without blinking. We need to see hate dead-on, learn from it, see how it courses itself inside someone and reach an understanding on how it spreads. One thing that makes me angry these days is the good people of our country are more comfortable bickering with each other instead of mobilizing to stop hate. It's easier to see somebody on TV and think you have them all figured out. It's easier to soak up the buzzwords political pundits spew out on a daily basis, perhaps not realizing that they get paid a pretty penny to pedal a bunch of bullshit. It's easier to point that the people on the other side of the fence and say everything wrong with the world is their fault, so they should fix it. The thing, we can fix the problem together, its just that nobody is willing to thaw.

There was a movie I saw about a month ago that I really liked, but I was nervous to write about it. It was a documentary called "Hail Satan?" Can you perhaps understand why I was nervous to write about it? Its a movie about people who worship the worlds biggest supervillain, right? Except it doesn't glorify them, it simply discusses their beliefs and the things they fight for as people. It asks the tough questions. What if your neighbor was a loyal, honest, uncorruptable figure? What if they did dozens upon dozens of good things for your community? What if they were always there to give you advice and were never judgmental. You could go to them with anything? Imagine if the only rub was they go to Black Mass every night. Does that change your opinion of them? Why? Can you honestly answer that question? Does it make somebody a bad person if they read the Bible and think instead of Satan coming to Jesus in the desert as a snake trying to tempt him, he instead just wanted to make sure Jesus didn't die?

"Jojo Rabbit" knows that we can't reach the Richard Spencers or the David Dukes or the Christopher Cantwell's of the world, but there is a way to help make sure more Richard Spencers and David Dukes and Christopher Cantwell's don't replace them. If we understand hate and what it stands for, we begin to educate others on why its not good for them. For a director to so eloquently preach these ideas while also shaking out a laugh is a miracle. In fact, its necessary. Because a movie like this needs to be as accessible to as many people as possible. Especially right now, because it seems like racism and fascism are fighting for breathing room in the world again and we need to educate as many people as possible to spot what this looks like. We need to be willing to call out everyone for their hatred, no matter what political party they belong to and no matter how they come off in the public light.

Taika Waititi is proving more and more to an unbelievably talented director of children. The work by both Roman Davis and Thomasin McKenzie is absolutely impeccable. Their relationship sells the movie and Davis in particular is both laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sincere throughout. They've got a great cast to bounce off of, including the likes of Sam Rockwell (who seems awesome in everything), Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant himself. Waititi himself plays the imaginary Hitler that hangs out with Jojo throughout the whole movie and oh my goodness. Great chemistry doesn't even begin to cover it. They are just fabulous together.

The script by Waititi is both nimble and whimsical, and I give him big props. Any time something is a little too whimsy, it can flop. But Waititi maintains control the whole time, even though its fairly evident that there is a heightened reality to it all. That control over transition and tone is another thing that sells the movie for me. There is a scene in the last 1/3 of the movie that, literally, made me gasp. Because it was a moment I wasn't expecting at all. It proves that Waititi isn't messing around with his message. I found the last 1/3 of the movie completely unpredictable, and just when you think you have this figured out. You don't.

Its up to us whether or not hatred wins in this world. If we are willing to take things at face value and understand what words means and what rhetoric stands for, we just might be okay. It's going to take a big swing though. You can go ahead and not see this movie and keep your mind closed and think you know what this movie is based on my review. Or you can see it for yourself and allow yourself to question certain aspects of this world. Make up your mind if you want a better tomorrow. It's up to us, we can do it. "Jojo Rabbit" is more than satire, more than simply pointing your finger at something and laughing at it. Its up to you if you are ready to understand it, though.


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