Film & TV

‘Jojo Rabbit’ Delivers Wry Humor, Fumbles with Tone

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Taika Waititi’s (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) newest comedy-drama film, “Jojo Rabbit,” features a brilliant and childlike perspective on Nazi Germany, but struggles with its tone. 

The film, which had a limited release Oct. 18, centers on Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old boy who navigates his life during the end of World War II with the help of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi). Jojo’s beliefs and blind admiration for the Nazi Party are tested when his mother Rosie Betzler (Scarlett Johansson) helps hide a Jewish girl in their home. 

Waititi’s canny perspective shines in the film, transporting the audience into Jojo’s thought process and viewpoint. By breaking the fourth wall in the first scene and low camera angles, the viewer is forced to look through Jojo’s eyes, which alleviates the tension between the audience and the constant jokes about World War II. 

The cinematography blends Jojo’s youthfulness and the film’s humor together, as war-torn Germany is replaced by whimsical, pastel-colored buildings that add to the childlike perspective. The film never frames itself as historically accurate, rather, it creates its own reality through the eyes of Jojo.

Cut shots are interwoven with comical scenes and help quicken the pace, which was severely needed as a large part of the middle dragged on at a deathly slow speed.

The best moments were the eccentric comedic scenes that delicately and wisely combined slapstick jokes about World War II and youthful humor. Rebel Wilson, who played a camp instructor at a Hitler Youth camp Jojo attends, was in a majority of the film’s funniest moments.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

At times, however, it seemed the film was simply two different movies carelessly mashed together. 

Following the humor-packed scenes in the beginning, the rest of the movie quickly devolved from its light-hearted tone into a quasi-dramatic direction. Oftentimes, there was no transition between humorous moments and emotionally-moving scenes, leading to confusion and an overall letdown. 

Many of the dramatic scenes felt forced and flat, and they awkwardly took up a large portion of the film’s second half. 

The relationship between Jojo and Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), the Jewish girl Jojo’s mother hides, was sometimes heartfelt but mainly stale and predictable.

A few memorable lines revolved around the film’s overarching question both Jojo and Elsa try to answer in their own way: who is the real enemy? In their classic — and often cliche — enemies-to-friends relationship, Elsa tells Jojo, “We’re like you, but human.” 

There were a few dramatic moments that worked, including a tense scene between Elsa and Jojo being confronted by Gestapo agents. During many of the emotional scenes, however, there was little suspense or anticipation, and the characters’ lives eventually lost their importance. 

Jojo’s confusion with his beliefs matched the confusing purpose of the movie. It was an awkward attempt at balancing drama and comedy to show the brainwashing of children in Nazi Germany. Overall, the film bit off too much and expected the audience to chew its bizarre direction.

“Jojo Rabbit,” rated PG-13, hits theaters nationwide Nov. 8.

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