Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi [5/10]

Taika Waititi is a creative whirlwind, bringing his own artistic obsessions to an eclectic portfolio of mainstream and indie films. “Jojo Rabbit” is his transgressive outsider film, flaunting as it does with making fun of and fun with Nazism. Ten-year-old JoJo strives to be inducted into the Hitler Youth right at the end of war, and a series of grotesque, hammed-up incidents results in him discovering that his beautiful, distant mother (Scarlett Johansson miscast) harbours a Jewish girl. All and good, you might say upon hearing this basic plot, but Waititi sketches a hellish world in which an imaginary Adolf Hitler accompanies JoJo, Adolf being played with Monty Python excess by Waititi himself, and in which the Nazis are grotesque buffoons. From the start, I was reminded of the similarly transgressive “Death of Stalin,” but whereas that quickly established its madcap tone, the first half of “JoJo Rabbit” is so haphazard, twitching between absurdity and shock and nonsense, that I almost walked out. I’m glad I stayed for the second half settled into a bittersweet, overwhelmingly tragic “end of war” workout that even manages a final flicker of hope, and I enjoyed that half. And thank goodness for Sam Rockwell, whose portrayal of a drunken, disgraced Nazi officer is off the wall and a triumph. All in all, “JoJo Rabbit” miscued badly for me but I urge you to see it for yourself.

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