Taika Waititi’s Hitler comedy Jojo Rabbit needs way more Hitler – The Verge

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Taika Waititi’s Hitler comedy Jojo Rabbit needs way more Hitler – The Verge

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special event releases. This review comes from the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. It isn’t impossible to make a comedy about Adolf Hitler. Mel Brooks got belly laughs out of satirizing the German dictator in his 1967 movie The Producers, and even during the war itself, Hollywood mocked Hitler with movies like the Three Stooges comedy You Nazty Spy! Roberto Benigni’s 1997 Oscar-winner Life Is Beautiful was divisive, but successful — in part because bringing lighthearted playfulness to a concentration camp story was such an unusual choice. And plenty of things about Hitler himself are ripe for humor: his weird little paintbrush mustache; his obsession with a tall, blond, “pure” Aryan physical ideal when he himself was dark-haired and diminutive; the extensive clips of his vehement, barking speeches. (A decade ago, hundreds of people repurposed a clip of actor Bruno Ganz ranting as Hitler in the movie Downfall into an endlessly hilarious all-purpose meme.) Any traumatic topic is guaranteed to be a rich vein for dark humor and subversive jokes, because people so often process distress by defanging it with laughter. But even so, turning Hitler into a comic character is difficult, because he comes freighted with so much emotional baggage — especially in film, where any attempts at funny Hitler imagery come pre-contextualized by hundreds of deeply emotional films about his effects on millions of lives, from soldiers and concentration camp victims to the citizens trying to get by under occupation or the disintegration of their homelands. So Taika Waititi’s World War II dramedy Jojo Rabbit, which reimagines Hitler as the goofy imaginary friend of a bullied 10-year-old German boy, starts with a tall hill of skepticism and resistance ahead of it. In the early going, though, Waititi manages to keep the tone light and the humor surreal enough to avoid too much association with the real world. But as his story devolves into melodrama, the comedy curdles. What’s the genre? World War II dramedy, based on Christine Leunens’ 2008 novel Caging Skies. The outrageous opening act feels like the kind of straight-faced absurdism Waititi developed in projects like the improv vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows and the unexpected family comedy Hunt For The Wilderpeople. He brings the same kind of deadpan looseness to the character interactions that he brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie Thor: Ragnarok. But then the movie heads straight into conventional World War II drama territory, and becomes a much more familiar film — a sentimental prestige drama. What’s it about? Roman Griffin Davis stars as Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, a wee 10-year-old German boy who idolizes Hitler so much that he imagines the dictator (played by Waititi himself) as an ever-present mentor, pal, and one-man cheering squad. Their pretend friendship forms during the waning days of World War II. The more cynical adults in Jojo’s life are well aware that Germany is losing and the country’s future
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