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Jojo Rabbit First Reviews: Ambitious and Absurd, with Surprising Sweetness

Critics say Taika Waititi's WWII satire maybe doesn't cut quite as deep as it should, but it's bold and features great performances from its younger stars.

by | September 9, 2019 | Comments

Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi trades a buffoonish Norse god for a buffoonish Nazi dictator in Jojo Rabbit, and the reactions to the new movie have been positive overall, with a few naysayers. Critics who saw it at its Toronto International Film Festival premiere are either totally on board with the goofy World War II satire, in which Waititi portrays Adolf Hitler as a boy’s imaginary friend, or they’re not completely sold on it. Following in the footsteps of Life is BeautifulJojo Rabbit is being noted for its mix of humor and heart in the face of tragic times. The first reviews cover a wide range of assessment.

Here’s what critics are saying about Jojo Rabbit:


Taika Waititi took a big risk here. Does it pay off?

This is one of the best films this year.
– Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

One of the year’s best films… [it] really shouldn’t work but does, with remarkable results.
– Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

He knows how to take things that shouldn’t work and make them work.
– Steve Pond, The Wrap

Heil Taika for trying, and pulling it off.
– Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

Rather than being bracing or dangerous, this comedy ends up feeling a little too safe, a little too scattered, and a little too inconsequential.
– Tim Grierson, Screen International

A sadly missed opportunity to create something more radical and challenging.
– Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies


How does it compare to other World War II satires?

Jojo Rabbit officially joins the list of the great satires poking fun at the Nazis.
Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Waititi is out of his league tackling the delicate tradition of anti-Nazi humor… Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler while pitying his ambition, but Jojo lacks the same measured approach.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Spectacularly wrongheaded… the feature-length equivalent of the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ number from Mel Brooks’s The Producers, sans context and self-awareness.
Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine


Fox Searchlight Pictures
(Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Does it feel like a certain other filmmaker’s movie?

It’s the first hipster Nazi comedy… like a Wes Anderson movie set during the Third Reich.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Some viewers will undoubtedly see what Watiti is doing here as a kind of smug, misguided Wes Anderson-ization of a subject that has no statute of limitations for satire.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

Jojo Rabbit suggests what that dapper hipster auteur might generate if he was to remake Elem Klimov’s hallucinatory, horrifying World War II epic Come and See, and that is not a compliment.
Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine

His film exists in such a color-coded Wes Anderson-esque universe that the true horror of the war always seems far removed.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

The twee of Moonrise Kingdom and the archetypical villains of Inglourious Basterds just don’t belong on the same planet.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire


Is it funny?

How to describe the brand of comedy… It’s by turns rude, flippant and aggressive, sometimes laced with clever wordplay and not overly sentimental.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

That German Shepherd gag is a cracker.
Jane Crowther, Total Film

Waititi doesn’t seem fully confident with this volatile material, and so the humor rarely lands.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

A more fitting tagline might be ‘An Anti-Humor Satire’ given how woefully unfunny it is.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

The ultimate intent of the comedy…is to get the audience to flatter itself about liking a movie that pretends to be audacious when it’s actually quite tidy and safe.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

This misguided monstrosity is utterly devoid of laughs.
Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine


Fox Searchlight Pictures
(Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Does it have heart?

The film excels at making Nazis small because it’s got such a big heart.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

There’s real heart in Jojo Rabbit… the black comedy finds room for some genuinely touching moments.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

You wouldn’t think a film that actually features Hitler as a character would be so damn sweet, but Waititi manages to take his message and mold it around a good-natured spirit.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

[Waititi] finds such strange, sweet humor in his storytelling that the movie somehow maintains its ballast.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

It’s a feel-good movie, all right, but one that uses the fake danger of defanged black comedy to leave us feeling good about the fact that we’re above a feel-good movie.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Yes, Waititi’s sugary fantasy unearths an endearing quality in the most unlikely places. But in the process, it buries the awful truth.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire


How is Waititi’s Hitler?

His Fuhrer is just a variation on his roles in What We Do In The Shadows and Ragnarok… but there’s a decent amount of humor in the performance.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

Waititi doesn’t really know what to do with his imaginary Hitler past an increasingly repetitive cycle of decreasingly funny acts of idiocy. He’s essentially a single sketch character and while Waititi plays him well, there’s only so much we need of him.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Waititi’s Hitler is a Mr Bean-esque figure, hammed up to 11… he is, undoubtedly, the worst thing about the film.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies


Fox Searchlight Pictures
(Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures)

What about the Nazi jokes?

Painting Nazis as idiotic goofballs probably hasn’t been a good idea since Hogan’s Heroes went off the air, but Waititi and his cast do it with such glee that it’s hard to resist.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

At surface level this is a Four Lions-approach in ridiculing extremist views, and it’s hard not to giggle at Hitler talking like a petulant kid.
Jane Crowther, Total Film

The cartoon Nazis in Jojo Rabbit are so far removed from reality that they make it all too easy to laugh off the circumstances at hand. That’s not only crass but disingenuous.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

The cartoonishness of it, while amusing at the outset, doesn’t wear well as matters deepen and progress.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

The Nazi jokes aren’t really that funny, which may be why they start to take a back seat after the opening act.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety


Does the satire hit its mark?

This satire’s good intentions are insufficient in the face of those real-world issues.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

Jojo Rabbit has the best intentions and a very confused way of showing them.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Anti-Semitic slurs and stereotypes are also consistently utilized for easy guffaws. The intent may be to debunk these noxious clichés, but the effect is hardly transgressive.
Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine

What Waititi thinks is shockingly audacious is in fact frustratingly timid, he opts for a gentle prod when maybe a punch would do.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian


Fox Searchlight Pictures
(Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures)

What about its young star, Roman Griffin Davis?

Waititi has made yet another great discovery… Davis is perfect.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

Davis is a natural at conveying the uneasiness of a kid battling the complexities of the adult world and bounces around with frantic energy that helps to stabilize the movie’s peculiar mood.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Roman Griffin Davis is an impressive young actor, with a face that’s like a hundred emojis.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety


And the rest of the cast?

[Scarlett Johansson] is the best thing about Jojo Rabbit, charming and funny in her lighter moments, convincing us that she’s a real person in a film that’s mostly populated by caricatures.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Stephen Merchant gets big laughs as a Gestapo agent, as does Rebel Wilson as the laid-back-yet-evil Fräulein Rahm… Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf is both uproariously funny and also surprisingly thoughtful.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

[Thomasin McKenzie] exhibits a whole new level of confidence in a surprising context… Unfortunately, the rest of the ensemble goes big and broad.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

[Thomasin McKenzie] shines again… we believe in Elsa’s strength balanced against her vulnerability.
Matt Goldberg, Collider


Who is this movie for?

It’s absolutely the kind of film young viewers should see… kids should learn why fascism is both harmful and ridiculous.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

It’s quite likely that younger viewers won’t be bothered by the film’s fast and loose attitude.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

If you’re looking for giddy escapism, Bowie tunes and an unapologetic good time with a side order of remembrance of WW2, then you’ll have as much fun as the cast clearly had making this.
Jane Crowther, Total Film


Jojo Rabbit opens on October 18.

#1

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
75%

#1
Adjusted Score: 77.554%
Critics Consensus: Jojo Rabbit's blend of irreverent humor and serious ideas definitely won't be to everyone's taste -- but either way, this anti-hate satire is audacious to a fault.
Synopsis: Writer director Taika Waititi (THOR: RAGNAROK, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE), brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his... [More]
Directed By: Taika Waititi

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