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If you can imagine The Tin Drum converted into an insidiously sentimental satire-lite, you’ll have some idea of what this terrible film is like: a pointless Hitler-spoofy YA adventure with a 12A certificate, obtusely accentuating little-kid cuteness and optimism amid the quaintly imagined non-horror. It is adapted from the 2008 bestseller Caging Skies by Christine Leunens and directed by and starring the talented New Zealand comic Taika Waititi, who has written the adaptation. His vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows was great. But this is bland and misjudged.
We are in Germany, or possibly Austria, as defeat looms for the Axis powers. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a frightened little 10-year-old boy, just drafted into the Hitler Youth, pathetically eager to fit in but nicknamed “Jojo Rabbit” by all the cruel little Nazi bullies on a weekend camp, for his failure to prove his ruthlessness by killing a rabbit. A grenade accident at this same camp incapacitates Jojo out of the Hitler Youth, and so he gets to spend his days at an admin office run by Comedy Unthreatening Nazis: Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). At home, he’s chivvied by his protective mum, Rosie (a mediocre and undirected performance from Scarlett Johansson). Jojo’s dad is away at the war, gone missing, and his sister is dead. Yet Jojo’s life is complicated when he realises his mother has been sheltering a teenage Jewish girl called Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. After a rocky start, the two tentatively make friends: like the mature soul that she is, Elsa sees through his Hitlerite bravado to the lonely, scared little child within.
But wait: Jojo has a second secret best friend – who is doing pretty much the same job of showing us Jojo’s private vulnerability. It is the Führer himself, but imaginary, and played by Waititi. This is a quirky, goofy, zany Adolf, like a drag queen but in men’s clothes (Nazi uniform, in fact), who shows up with 21st-century-sounding quips when no one else is around, like Humphrey Bogart in front of Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam. So, there they are: cheeky Adolf who is hiding in Jojo’s brain and Elsa, who is hiding in the attic, like Anne Frank. You can have one or the other of these adorable “secret friend” setups, I think, but not both.
There’s nothing wrong with refusing to take Hitler seriously, of course, but this film doesn’t have the passion of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator or the satirically magnificent bad taste of Mel Brooks’s The Producers. There is something weirdly redundant about it. Jojo Rabbit fails to attack or even really notice evil, and the moments when people are shown hanged in the streets serve only to point up the gluten-free ahistorical silliness of everything else. There are no insights to be had – and no laughs.
Source: The Guardian
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