Friday, October 25, 2019

Oscar Bait: Jojo Rabbit

Komm, gib mir deine hand grenade

The final three months of the year are always a mad rush to awards season. It's when studios release their "prestige" films, AKA Oscar Bait, but it's also the time of year when those same studios do their best to remind critics and academy members of other movies and performances they may have forgotten, via what seems like an endless stream of screeners and screenings.

If you're a full time critic, there's not quite as much catching up you have to do at the end of the year, as it's likely you've already seen most of the movies that are vying for those accolades. But if, like me, this is a part time gig you have to balance with a full time job, it can be overwhelming, and time for actually reviewing all those movies can be scarce.

Last year, I basically gave up writing about anything I was watching at the end of the year. But this time I'm going to do something different, and try my best to offer up some capsule reviews of those Oscar Bait films that are flooding my eyeballs.

And first up is the "anti-hate satire" Jojo Rabbit.

Now, if anyone could pull of a Nazi comedy, it's writer, director, and actor Taika Waititi. What We Do In the Shadows is one of the funniest movies I've ever scene, and Thor: Ragnarok is easily the most enjoyable movie in the Marvel universe.

And indeed, he does pull it off. Jojo Rabbit is both very, very funny and truly heartbreaking. I just don't know if it's as profound as its marketing might lead you to believe because its heart it's just another story of a bigot who learns to see past his own prejudices when he befriends someone he's been told he should hate. What makes Jojo different is that bigot is a ten-year-old boy, and Hitler is his buffoonish imaginary friend.

Set in the final years of the Second World War, Jojo Rabbit follows young Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis, a delight), as he ventures to a Hitler Youth camp, befriends the Nazi Captain (Sam Rockwell) who runs the camp, and devotes his life to the Fuerer, who also makes frequent appearances as Jojo's imaginary friend. (Hitler is played by Waititi, and who knew Waititi-as-Hitler would look so much like Fred Armisen?)

Jojo lives alone with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, both angelic and tough as nails). His sister has died, and his father is somewhere in Africa fighting for Germany. Or so he's been told. And while Rosie loves Jojo, she doesn't exactly agree with his zealotry, ascribing it to his youth, or, as another character puts it, "You're not a Nazi, Jojo. You're a 10-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club."

Indeed, the film equates the zealotry bequeathed to Hitler with the youthful exuberance of Beatles fans, setting the opening credits to the Beatles' German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand, Komm, gib mir deine Hand; other anachronistic music flourishes pepper the film, giving it a Wes Anderson vibe. But the anachronisms also drive home the point that the past is present, and those who cannot laugh at the absurdity inherent in our world's history of hate are perhaps doomed to repeat it.

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