The guys who are most enthusiastic about film are going to want to see “Jojo Rabbit” in the theater. But its showing schedule has made it a sort of moving target.
The coming-of-age comedy has been in general release for a couple of months. AMC’s web site has promised it to us a couple of times in the past. But it hasn’t reached the screen, or at least not very often. Having seen it, I wonder why.
There has been a little controversy about the movie. But those complaining have had trouble thinking what exactly it is about “Jojo Rabbit” that made them think it a bad thing for the public to see. So they have whined that it makes Nazis and, specifically, Hitler into comic characters.
Not that they complain much about “Hogan’s Heroes” reruns. And there were no protests of showings of “The Producers,” a film that turned Dick Shawn loose as a beatnik führer.
Probably what Kiwi writer and director and star Taika Waititi (who plays “Jojo Rabbit’s” silly companion Hitler) has done that has made some viewers unhappy is that he has suggested that the devotion of ordinary people to politics is unnecessary and useless.
The film’s central character is a 10-year-old German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis, who is English). He is trying to find his way in life there at the very end of the Second World War. His father is out of the country fighting.
His mother (Scarlett Johansson) occasionally suggests that Jojo might be happier if he weren’t playing at war. While attending a young commandos’ camp, the boy gets his nickname and then is injured in a grenade explosion.
The movie likes to put silly comedy (Aussie Rebel Wilson is a hoot as a Nazi youth organizer) alongside sudden references to death. At camp, Jojo can’t kill a rabbit when he is asked to do so. A jeering counselor does it for him.
Then we’re back to silly as the boy consults his goofy imaginary friend, Hitler. But soon enough there will be human bodies hanging from gallows in the streets of Jojo’s hometown.
The war doesn’t seem all that scary when our hero undertakes pro-war jobs at the behest of an understanding and possibly homosexual SS Captain. This character, played by Sam Rockwell, is the hero of the piece, though his one-eyed status reminds us that he is still an army officer.
One of the times the Captain helps Jojo is when the Gestapo (represented by tall, affable limey Stephen Merchant) searches the kid’s house. The boy has discovered that his mother is hiding a teenaged Jewess behind the wainscoting upstairs.
New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie has the part. She and Jojo have been conversing. He has been assembling a violently prejudiced book about Jews and she, smiling, has fed him information for it. Along the way they have become friends. He has a crush on her.
This is, of course, at odds with how a good German boy should, according to the government, feel toward a Jew. The conflict between what he expects he should do and feel and what he actually feels and does makes up the bulk of the action in the movie.
The Allies are closing in on Jojo’s hometown, forcing the story to its resolution. But not before the Captain makes another spectacular appearance in a colorful new uniform of his own design. The consequences of his last effort on the boy’s behalf don’t make real sense. But his act of goodwill contradicts all generalizations based on political orientation.
That’s the idea this movie has that scares some people — guys from the other party can’t be “good” or “heroic.” But this needn’t bother movie fans. And “Jojo Rabbit” will delight fans of the films of Wes Anderson. Waititi’s plotting is more conventional than that of the writer and director of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Isle of Dogs” and “The Grand Hotel Budapest.”
But “Jojo Rabbit” has some Anderson-like quirkiness and color. And it has been about as difficult to see in the local theater as have some of Anderson’s much-loved movies.