kevinyang’s review published on Letterboxd:
To not take into account societal and political context when evaluating a film’s quality is, I strongly believe, a form of willful ignorance and a failure to understand film’s power in the first place. And make no mistake - it is a form of irresponsible to try to have it both ways with an “anti-hate satire” today. To portray any Nazi with any form of redemptive arc, especially during some sort of emotional climax, is wildly misguided. To not appropriately address the immense power imbalance between Jojo and Elsa, instead dressing it up with whimsy under the guise of a coming of age love story, is reductive at best.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing the film for not being hard hitting enough of a satire - it’s clear that isn’t the primary intent. What I’m criticizing is Waititi’s particular conception of the film as both satire and melodrama, such that the two have difficulties blending together because there isn’t enough weight behind each. Moral judgments aside, it’s just a bit too diluted from a storytelling and tonal front. As such, Waititi and Johansson don’t really add anything compelling to the narrative aside from serving as sign posts for the comedy and drama sides of the story, respectively. I think Waititi is an incredibly exciting and talented filmmaker, but he bites off more than he can chew here.
All that being said - it’s not a bad film, it’s just disappointingly average. It’s just funny enough and just sweet enough to work in the moment, and the performances from Davis and McKenzie are quite good. McKenzie will very soon have a Florence Pugh like rise and I’m looking forward to it. Stephen Merchant supplies the film with its funniest dose of comedy, mainly because he’s allowed to lean into a ridiculous villainy and play off his imposing yet awkward frame. Archie Yates is great as Jojo’s best friend, and their friendship is the sweetest element of the film. And overall, while Waititi’s framing of stories through the lens of children can be a double edged sword, it also provides a valuable and interesting in to a world of pain and hurt. I just wish it worked more often in this film.