Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Love is the strongest thing in the world.

There are a lot of teachers, especially male teachers, who love to pull struggling students outside of the classroom to have a heart to heart conversation. Maybe, they put an arm on the kid's shoulder, maybe dispense some life wisdom in way that feels authentic, and maybe, just maybe...it works. The kid becomes a role model,goes to college immediately, as beautiful flowers spring up through cracks in the concrete.

I have never been that teacher.

I think that most kids, in most situations, to really learn something that matters, are going to have to figure it out for themselves. 

I was in a pretty rough spot when I finally caught Taika Waititi's latest feature, Jojo Rabbit. Not only was it day four of a Thanksgiving beach vacation with my in-laws (read that again), but I was still secretly reeling from news about my dad, who had just suffered some mysterious (and near fatal) cardiac event. Not great, you know?

But when I discovered that twenty minutes up the road I could catch a film I thought I'd never see, I jumped at the chance to think about something else, and headed to the Tilton Square theater in Northfield, New Jersey. Alone. And if that somehow sounds depressing, trust me, it's not supposed to. I was beyond stoked.

The only reason I mention any of this, and it seems silly I realize, is I didn't enjoy the movie nearly as much as I thought I would. I liked it, found it rather charming and clever, but I just didn't adore it like I had hoped. Maybe it simply isn't as good as Waititi's similar-ish Hunt for the Wilderpeople [review], or maybe, just maybe, my head wasn't in the game. I left the theater thinking I enjoyed the idea a bit more than the execution. Between you and me, kind of like this whole Thanksgiving vacation if I'm honest...

Near the end of World War II, young duder/Nazi enthusiast Johannes Betzler is psyched to find himself spending the weekend at a Hitler Youth Camp. Less interested in playing third base and more about joining the Third Reich, Johannes is otherwise a pretty ordinary little kid. And when ordered to kill a rabbit as part of the camp's activities, he is simply unable to do it. The older kids mock him relentlessly, and the nickname Jojo Rabbit is born. Jojo, along consulting his imaginary friend Hitler, takes a fairly epic shot at redemption, but fails miserably and almost kills himself.

When he gets home and recovers, he's no less passionate about being a Nazi, and ends up running errands for a member of the German armed forces, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, inherently awesome). Things are going fairly well, until Jojo discovers a young Jewish named Elsa girl hiding upstairs in his recently-deceased sister's bedroom. Jojo is furious, and wants to turn her in, but eventually relents and decides it would be better to use Elsa to gain intimate knowledge of the secret world of the Jew. It's all fairly innocuous through Jojo's eyes, but the atrocities and abject horror of the Holocaust might just knock on the door at any moment.

I know I throw the 'l' word around a lot, but my goodness, ScarJo couldn't be more lovely here.
I don't remember many of the jokes, don't recall laughing all that often, but what stuck with me the most was watching Jojo navigate the decidedly murky waters of his first love. Not only do his feelings for Elsa contradict everything he believes in, but though he means well - he's terribly clueless. For me, his misguided affection felt incredibly authentic and properly tense, as it's plain as day that this isn't going to end well for anybody, but especially young Jojo. I mean, he's just a dumb kid trying to fit in. And that's about the only way hating someone for no reason could ever 'make sense'.

What you should hate, proudly, are the Yays and Boos. They have a long history of being painfully unfunny under 'normal' circumstances. But here? With all this swirling around? Yikes.

It's like the Jordan logo, except infinitely better.

  • I never thought that you might have to practice all your Heil Hitler-ing at some point. Who's Hit-uh-luh?
  • Little titty grabbers.
  • Man, Archie Yates, nails it as Yorki, Jojo's best friend. Love this kid!
  • Rockwell's accent is way too funny. I'm not even sure what he's going for, but it's great. 
  • But even better than his voice, is the entire arc of Captain Klenzendorf. Just when you think he couldn't get more...heroic?...he outdoes himself, yet again.
  • A Jew? Gesundheit.
  • Jojo's mom is just the sweetest person ever, you know? I mean, the fact that she's being played by ScarJo doesn't hurt, but still.
  • No need to attack his hideous deformity.
  • While most of Waititi's lines as Hitler are pretty funny, his whole get your shit together speech was probably my favorite.
  • I know a lot of people want to praise the little kid, and I'm cool with that, but I was floored by Thomasin McKenzie's performance as Elsa. Her versus my heart? Flawless victory.
  • The whole soundtrack is great, but Everybody's Gotta Live is totally the standout.
  • And finally, though the ending is a bit...silly, it's also absolutely perfect, too. I'm not even sure who's the better dancer, but with enough video evidence, it's a debate I'm willing to have any day of the week. 

Nothing worse as a young man...
...than falling for an older woman.
  • Totally irrelevant...but the ticket was almost sixteen dollars and I swear to you...absolutely promise you...the 'value' popcorn bag? It was the kind of bag that you'd put a Christmas present in. Assuming you're giving someone a f--king giftcard.
  • I know she's funny and everything, but sometimes, just occasionally, I feel like Rebel Wilson isn't trying. At all.
  • Even if it's brief, there's some pretty heavy shit in here that I'd rather not think about/ever look at again.
  • Usually I want to punch Alfie Allen's face, not demand to see more of it. What cruel world is this? (such a small part, right?)
  • Wow, so that's where Jews live? (actually everything in Jojo's book is pretty rad/totally horrible)
  • Wait, they use what as earplugs?
  • Aw, the bit with the letters from her boyfriend was pretty sad. At least he tried to atone...with uh, mixed results, I suppose.
  • Stephen Merchant is a giant man. A giant terrifying man. No, seriously. His presence was beyond unsettling.
  • And so was that awful scene upstairs in the house. I was so uncomfortable I almost left the theater to immediately take up smoking cigarrettes. Easily would have been my most cringe-worthy scene, had Palpatine not made 900 planet-obliterating ships appear, presumably with a flick of lightning-filled scrotum. (my theory makes just as much sense as anything else in that movie)
  • And finally, as I attempted to explain above, as much as I enjoyed the movie, it just didn't pack the punch that I was expecting. Sure, my non-reaction probably says more about me than the movie, but for whatever reason I was convinced it would wreck me regardless. 
Jojo, like a million other kids before him, really has no idea what he's doing. At the very least, he means well (which in my experience, is saying something). But like all those young men and women before (and after) him, he's destined to f--k things up, exponentially more than he'll get things right. 

And sure, we could pull him out in the hallway and tell him he's being an asshole. But whether he's obsessing over a girl or an imaginary war criminal...

...he's probably not listening. And even if he is? He totally doesn't get it. 



  1. Aww, I'm bummed this didn't work for you more. It's one of my favorites of the year. I can't wait to see it again. I 100% agree with you about Rebel Wilson. She was the weakest link of the film and I don't feel she ever tries either. I did get a kick out of her "I birthed 18 babies for Germany!" line though.

    1. It's your number 1, right? Did I see that somewhere?

      I wanted to love it, really, really love it, but like Sati said...I just liked it a lot. Honestly, when I got back, I actually enjoyed it more thinking about it. But in the theater? It was...fine???

      Rebel was definitely the weakest link. If only they had cast the lady from HFtW people instead (the DCF-type lady). I know that wouldn't have made sense in Nazi Germany...but still.

  2. I really do want to see this and i think, once a couple of years pass, and the hulabaloo over this film quiets down, you might like it more. My mom was placed in the Hitler youth and she liked the singing of songs and the hikes etc... but would get into trouble for saying "heightler" because she thought the whole thing stupid. Funny, because she hated the boy/girl scouts and made sure we never joined. It reminded her too much of the Hitler youth

    1. This is/was such a lovely comment, I'm sorry it got lost in comment Hell! I'm also assuming I'll love it more, possibly when my head is in the game again, you know? 'Cause this day it was not.

      That's incredible, this story about your mom! I guess it would have been pretty fun on the on hand, huh?

      Aw, poor Scouts!

  3. I also didnt completely love it but I liked it a lot. Rockwell's character's arc was incredible

    1. Perhaps we should re-watch it? (I mean, I will...in 2048)

    2. When will I find the time when I rewatch Triple Frontier twice a month?

    3. *checks cast listing on iMDB* Ah, makes sense.

      Pope and Catfish, you say?

    4. When they hug is when I ascend 😂

  4. I'm seeing this on Sunday night and I'm worried I'm not going to love it, either. I will greedily accept anything that Waititi makes but I might have bigged Jojo Rabbit up too much in my head!

    1. I'm stoked that you liked it! (I read your post) I worry that Waititi is going to lose some of his magic along the way, as HFTW is one of my favorite movies ever. The man has a gift for getting the most out of his young performers, right??

  5. I will see this one today and I'm expecting to love it. I won't have it any other way.

    1. I admire this stance more than you could ever know.

      (I wanted to...too?)