I realise I hate trailers. They’re either utterly useless, pick out the only good bits and leave you gnawing your seat with frustration when you realise you’ve been had or, as with Jojo Rabbit, leave you expecting one film only to get another.
And even that’s not totally true.
If you go by the trailer I saw you are expecting a comedy, mostly satire and undoubtedly tasteless (the hero is a ten year old member of the Hitler Youth with his imaginary friend, one A Hitler). Okay, what with all the recent sensitivity over antisemitism raising its very ugly bug eyes during the recent election and me living in a hand-wringingly woke, wishy washy liberal part of South London, seeing a film that even warns you at the start – alongside the usual guff about violent scenes, strong language and sexual references – that it contains discriminatory material is going to be a challenge. You know, given how tasteless is my sense of humour that any laughs will be accompanied by a quick scan of the audience to see if there are any disapproving looks.
I consoled myself with the notion that any tastelessness will be played for laughs, poking fun at the undoubted baddies in this story. And there are laughs, both verbal and visual.
But there are also some ‘woah, wtf was that?’ moments too. There’s a scene where Jojo is with his mum, played with gusto by Scarlett Johanssen chatting distractedly about life when they enter the market square and are confronted by five hanging figures, clearly punishment killings by the local Nazis. This is a 12A film and it knocked me, so goodness knows what a ten year old might make of that. The tentative laughs that came from Rebel Wilson’s hard eyed psychotic camp leader suddenly didn’t seem so funny. And when Stephen Merchant, playing a perma-smiling Gestapo agent terrorises Jojo and the 17 year old Jewish refugee who’s living in his loft and pretending to be his sister, it really is neither funny nor comfortable.
But these moments of genuine awfulness make the satire and farce all the more powerful in their way. They say, in ways it is often difficult to get across that this behaviour would be funny if it wasn’t so awful (not the hangings obviously – you can’t play hangings for laughs).
It almost felt like I didn’t know how I was meant to experience the film. A serious drama about the Nazis and I’d know how to react; a comedy and ditto. But this? I learnt early that I had to be sure where the scene was going before I knew what my response should be. And even then the director caught me out again and again.
Basically I had to work hard at this, had to be ready to take the laughs but also turn them off pretty much instantly depending where the story went.
It’s not exactly thought-provoking; the story line isn’t novel. But I left the cinema wondering what I’d seen and what I took away from it.
And twenty-four hours later….
The child actors are excellent
The ensemble does a great job especially the known comic actors subverting what you expect
The core theme – about wanting to belong, even if the only club is the Nazi party – is put across well
But it’s not a comedy because it’s too uncomfortable. See it for yourself. I’ll be interested in what others think; it’s probably a film that will divide people with haters and lovers. I’m just not sure which I am. Yet.
PS I read an article today about a trip to Amsterdam and the Resistance museum. It would be understandable for the City to big up the resistance to something so abhorrent, but apparently the Dutch give equal time to the three categories of citizens during the occupation: the collaborators, the acceptors and the resistors. There was a significant Dutch Nazi party as well as a resistance and the majority were neither, just accepting their fate and trying to cope. Some 34000 Jews were sent from Amsterdam to the camps and 18 survived. You need local actors to achieve that. The point of the article though wasn’t to criticise or patronise but rather to wonder what would have happened here had we been occupied. Much the same of course because most of us would either want to try and belong or at least duck and dive and the courage to resist would only fall on a relative few. Like Jojo, it seems the most obvious thing to do, to get by, to be something. He’s only ten but even so…
It’s too easy to let things slide, to accept, isn’t it? Maybe that’s the take away. I know that I’ll keep wondering about Jojo Rabbit for a while yet.