Taika Waititi’s-World-War-whimsy is initially guilty of trivialising the appalling nature of its subject matter – sending up Nazism as a joke was always going to be hard to pull off for 90 minutes. For a long time it looked like that’s all Jojo Rabbit would be, a damp satire with no focus and no bite. Even as comedic pretence started giving way to Berlin-wall-relationship drama, I found myself resolutely unmoved. And then I was.
Two thirds of the way in, under a classic Michael Giacchino score and a superb performance by Thomasin Mackenzie, this slapstick mess lifted itself when I least expected, for the simple reason I felt affected. Amidst constant reminders of its deficiencies – often within the same scene – the love story that comes to define the film accrues a strange poignancy. It’s not that Waititi lacks talent – he has a clear sense of poetry, beautiful details like the shoelaces are impossible to ignore. Nor does he lack brains – his direction occasionally comes close to capturing the hyper-reality of wartime-German life. But unlike, say, the Coen Brothers, he lacks discipline. This is a short film, 108 minutes including credits, yet it’s still baggy, every winning moment potentially undercut by an avoidable indulgence. All of which gives the impression Taika’s editorial slack has prevented a good film from being a great one. I think, however, the opposite is true. Given how poorly it was tracking, how pointless and underwhelming it had seemed, the fact its final act emerged with genuine dignity means this is a positive verdict, not a disappointed one.