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‘Jojo Rabbit’ Sharply Divides TIFF With Oscar Buzz and Uproar Over Nazi Storyline

"Jojo Rabbit" is following in the footsteps of "Life Is Beautiful" by earning both Oscar buzz and some outspoken detractors.

"Jojo Rabbit"

“Jojo Rabbit”

Fox Searchlight

Fox Searchlight unveiled Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” to sharply divided reactions at the Toronto International Film Festival. The coming-of-age comedy-drama is set in Nazi Germany and centers around a young boy whose sense of nationalism is rattled after he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home. Waititi himself stars in the movie as the boy’s imaginary friend, who just so happens to be a cartoonish version of Adolf Hitler. More than a few film critics have compared “Jojo Rabbit” to “Life Is Beautiful,” Roberto Benigni’s equally divisive 1997 Holocaust comedy-drama.

Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman called “Jojo Rabbit” this year’s “model of Nazi Oscar-bait showmanship: ‘Life Is Beautiful’ made with attitude,” adding the film “pretends to be audacious when it’s actually quite tidy and safe…it’s a studiously conventional movie dressed up in the self-congratulatory ‘daring’ of its look!-let’s-prank-the-Nazis cachet.”

Ty Burr, film critic for The Boston Globe, reacted similarly to “Jojo Rabbit,” writing on social media that the movie gave this generation it’s own “Life Is Beautiful.” Despite winning the Grand Prix at Cannes and earning three Oscars, “Life Is Beautiful” has often been criticized for lightening up the events of the Holocaust. Waititi’s depiction of idiotic and cartoonish Nazis is already coming under fire.

“The cartoon Nazis in ‘Jojo Rabbit’ are so far removed from reality that they make it all too easy to laugh off the circumstances at hand,” IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote in his C review. “That’s not only crass but disingenuous. Nazis weren’t just a bunch of dopey chumps.”

Hannah Woodhead of Little White Lies adds, “’Jojo Rabbit’ feels oddly impartial, keen to note that actually, there were some Nice Nazis Too…Nazis still exist, and they don’t need better PR.”

Screen Daily film critic Tim Grierson also criticized the movie for making its Nazi Germany setting and storyline feel all too conventional. “Rather than being bracing or dangerous, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ ends up feeling a little too safe, a little too scattered, and a little too inconsequential,” Grierson wrote in his review. Although set during one of history’s darkest periods, it seems afraid to stare into that void.”

Keith Uhlich of Slant Magazine was the most unforgiving, awarding “Jojo Rabbit” zero stars and writing, “Waititi is incapable of dealing with the twin horrors of oppression and indoctrination beyond cheap-seats sentimentality and joke-making…This spectacularly wrongheaded ‘anti-hate satire’ is the feature-length equivalent of the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ number from Mel Brooks’s ‘The Producers,’ sans context and self-awareness.”

However, “Jojo Rabbit” is following in the footsteps of “Life Is Beautiful” by also having its champions and stirring up some Oscar buzz. The New York Times carpetbagger Kyle Buchanan reacted to the film on Twitter by writing, “Few movies this year could have gone as wrong as ‘Jojo Rabbit,’ so it’s a testament to Taika that somehow, he pulled it off. The movie played like gangbusters tonight at TIFF and despite its high whimsy, could become a serious awards contender.”

Chris Evangelista of /Film hails “Jojo Rabbit” as one of the best films of the year, while Collider reporter Perri Nemiroff was raving the movie is one of the highlights of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Audiences will be able to check out “Jojo Rabbit” for themselves when Fox Searchlight releases the film starting October 18.

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