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Jojo Rabbit dubbed a ‘self-congratulatory’ ‘hipster Nazi comedy’ in mixed first reviews

Taika Waititi’s Hitler satire has additionally been accused of using provocation to mask a 'tidy and safe' comedy

Adam White
Monday 09 September 2019 10:15 BST
Jojo Rabbit - trailer

Taika Waititi’s Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit has been dubbed “crass”, “disingenuous” and “self-congratulatory” in its first round of reviews.

The new comedy, from the director of Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do in the Shadows, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival yesterday to mixed reactions, with IndieWire dubbing it a “hipster Nazi comedy” and Variety claiming that its provocative premise masks a “tidy and safe” movie.

Others have even compared it to Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust comedy-drama film, that earned mixed reviews upon its debut in 1998, but ultimately prevailed at the Oscars in 1999. Its reputation has only dimmed in the years since.

Tim Grierson in Screen Daily argued that “rather than being bracing or dangerous, Jojo Rabbit ends up feeling a little too safe, a little too scattered, and a little too inconsequential. Although set during one of history’s darkest periods, it seems afraid to stare into that void.”

For Variety, Owen Gleiberman suggested the film “pretends to be audacious when it’s actually quite tidy and safe”, adding: “It’s this year’s model of Nazi Oscar-bait showmanship: Life Is Beautiful made with attitude… It’s actually a studiously conventional movie dressed up in the self-congratulatory ‘daring’ of its look!-let’s-prank-the-Nazis cachet.”

For IndieWire, Eric Kohn expressed concern over the film’s refusal to seriously address the actual horror of the Nazis. “Waititi makes a conscious effort to obscure the ugliest elements of the scenario,” he writes. “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… Nazis weren’t just a bunch of dopey chumps…”

Hannah Woodhead of Little White Lies similarly condemned the film’s politics, suggesting that Waititi had made a film that was curiously apolitical despite its provocative optics. “Jojo Rabbit feels oddly impartial, keen to note that actually, there were some Nice Nazis Too,” she wrote, adding: “Nazis still exist, and they don’t need better PR.”

Others were more praising of the film. Matt Goldberg of Collider called it a “well-crafted, utterly delightful comedy” that chooses not to “take fascists on directly” and instead “just mocks the s*** out of them”.

Jojo Rabbit stars newcomer Roman Griffin Davis as a young boy living in Nazi Germany, whose imaginary friend takes the form of Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself), and who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring a young Jewish girl in their attic.

Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant and Rebel Wilson also star in the film, which will be released in the UK on 1 January 2020.

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