Sixty years from now people will look back at these grimy, poisonous years. They’ll say, “How weren’t people out in the streets every day demanding the impeachment and jailing of the most cartoonishly blatant criminal to ever plunk his carcass in the presidential chair?” The distance of years and narrowing of memory will make it seem like it was such an obvious choice. What could have been more important, day-to-day, than pulling reality itself back from the abyss?
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Taiki Waititi answers this question with the most deft combination of hilarity and terror in a film about World War II I’ve ever seen. And yes, I’ve seen “Seven Beauties” and “To Be or Not to Be” and “Europa Europa.” But “Jojo Rabbit” brilliantly dials back the scope that WWII and the Nazis are usually afforded in cinema — dials it back to such a mundane, frivolous degree that a few city blocks in Berlin begin to take on a vast, cosmic scope of terror and hopelessness. When a shocking moment occurs midway through the movie the windows of the buildings themselves seem to be trying to blink it away. But there’s no looking away, especially not for young Jojo, a Nazi Youth as besotted as a sports fan, film freak or music buff. Hitler — played with chilly goofiness by Taika himself — is his Babe Ruth, his Bogie, his Bowie.
Taika has always had the eye and empathy for how the young see the world. Nothing makes life funnier, scarier and more epic than not having hindsight. “Eagle vs. Shark,” “Boy” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” are all heartfelt, funny and knowing about how the initial misperceptions of childhood can lead us to disaster and then wisdom.
But “Jojo Rabbit” is something else entirely. It’s amazing when you get to see an artist make a massive creative leap right before your eyes. Bowie going from “The Man Who Sold the World” to “Hunky Dory,” the Beastie Boys from “License to Ill” to “Paul’s Boutique,” the Beatles from “Help!” to “Rubber Soul.” Taika is beginning an amazing upward swing with “Jojo Rabbit.”
Patton Oswalt is a stand-up comedian, actor and writer. Oswalt won an Emmy for outstanding writing for a variety special for his 2016 comedy special “Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping.” He currently stars as Principal Durbin on the NBCUniversal comedy “A.P. Bio.”