It’s two surprisingly recent movies getting the rundown in Orange Thursday this week:
- Jojo Rabbit (2019) – in which we follow a young Nazi and his imaginary friend Hitler as they discover that jews don’t have scales and horns
- Yesterday (2019) – in which we follow a young musician into a world in which The Beatles do not exist but Ed Sheeran is their Salieri.
Crazy, both of them, huh?
See you after the ads and the trailers.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend – Adolf Hitler – Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.
Jojo Rabbit is a little hard to describe. I’ve done it twice already, but that summarises the main standout aspects of the plot, when actually its the quieter elements of the plot that really define it.
So sure, Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do In The Shadows) writes, directs and stars in this as an imaginary version of Hitler whom a lonely member of the Hitler Youth conjures up. But actually, fake Hitler doesn’t have much to do with the movie beyond send up the ridiculousness of Hitler and Nazism.
Instead, it’s probably better to think of Jojo Rabbit as firstly, a story about the loss of innocence and the dangers of belief and trying to fit in. Young Nazi boy (Roman Griffin Davis) has been indoctrinated in the ways of Nazism and really believes in them. But in the way a young boy would believe them.
Over the course of the movie, reality kicks in, primarily thanks to the jewish teenager (Thomasin McKenzie) his mum is harbouring in a secret room upstairs. This is done in a relatively amusing, if not especially hard-hitting way.
McKenzie is a surprisingly fierce refugee who at one point puts Davis into a headlock and utters my favourite line in the whole movie: “Master race? My people fought angels and giants.” But it’s not like you’re getting views of the concentration camps.
An diesem Tag
However, it’s really David Bowie’s Helden – the German version of Heroes that plays at the end of the movie – which summarises the film.
This is a movie told from the point of view of the regular Germans who weren’t Nazis and who had to fight against their fellow citizens in only the small ways available to them.
Over the course of the movie, we primarily see how Johansson tries to fight against the Nazis, through both her rescuing of McKenzie and other, more subtle actions. There’s also the real reason (spoiler alert) her husband is missing .
However, we also see how others fight back, including Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen. And ultimately how Davis does, too.
And although none of these actions seem terribly brave or game-changing at a macro level, we see by the end of the movie that they are important and save lives, sometimes at the cost of their own.
Funny, not funny
All of which gives the film pathos, but surprisingly, given it’s Waititi scripting it, Jojo Rabbit isn’t actually hilariously funny. There are plenty of wry lines, physical comedy and pieces of absurdism – I particularly like the clones – but you’re not going to be belly laughing your way through it. Indeed, the jokes that are there are mostly to satirise Nazism and are no more potent at that than those of Allo Allo.
That said, there are some great comedic performances from the likes of Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Rockwell. However, it’s Johansson – now double Oscar nominated for both this and Marriage Story – who really excels, showing us a humorous, flawed German single mother doing the best she can to raise a child who might just turn her into the authorities if he knew the truth of what she was doing. The marriage of both Waititi’s script and Johansson’s performance give her her funniest role since The Nanny Diaries.
Jojo Rabbit won’t truly rock your world while you’re watching it, but you’ll certainly be left thinking about it and some of its more memorable scenes for a long time afterwards. And at the very least, it’s that rarest of things: a movie about ordinary Germans during World War II that’s sympathetic and nuanced.
Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, Jack becomes on overnight sensation with a little help from his agent.
How much you like Yesterday very much depends on how much you’ve drunk The Beatles Kool Aid. At the bare minimum, you have to believe they’re probably the best band in music history. But on top of that, you’ll probably have to imagine their music is almost miraculous and transformational, and that if they hadn’t existed, no one else like them would have filled their place. Not even The Kinks.
Think Back in the USSR is a great rock song of the 60s? Not enough. You’ll have to believe that if someone wrote and played it right now, the people of Russia would adore it – and being reminded of the USSR (some might, most might not, particularly the younger people, I suspect).
And if that weren’t enough, you’ll also have to believe that Ed Sheeran isn’t annoying.
If you can’t really believe that, you’re simply going to have to sit back from Yesterday and accept that some people might think that – and then take it as a simple rom-com, in which the self-centred musician (Himesh Patal) is adored by a pretty girl (Lily James), but doesn’t realise what he’s missing out on until he becomes big and famous and has to leave her behind.
It is a Richard Curtis script, directed by Danny Boyle at that, so you’re in safe hands on that front. But all that Beatles love around it dilutes the central story.
What else has changed?
The movie does at least explore its central idea and the difficulties of being the only person in the world who can remember the Beatles – and who wants to copy their songs. Could you remember the lyrics to all their songs exactly? All the notes? Can you even name all their songs and which albums they were on? And would your version be as good as their version?
The movie also occasionally throws up another quirk of this new Earth, such as the lack of Coca Cola or the lack of the band Oasis (“That figures,” says Patel, and since Wonderwall gets played during the movie, we have to assume that one or even both Gallaghers enjoyed the joke enough to license the song).
The fact that others might remember The Beatles, too, is also explored with a surprising result. And there is one scene in which (spoiler alert) Patel meets an old John Lennon that’s properly tear-jerking, even if you haven’t drunk that Beatles Kool Aid.
However, some things don’t play the way Curtis and Boyle want – Sheeran getting disheartened by Patel’s apparent genius and deciding he might quit songwriting? Oh. No. Don’t. Ed. Don’t.
And ultimately, Patel is a bit of a twat as a character. Patel does great with the role, but he is a self-obsessed muso who ignores the self-sacrificing James.
The ending is a tad trite and the last temptation for Patel – (spoiler alert) there’s no Harry Potter in this world either – has a paucity of taste in keeping with the previous ones. But it’s an amiable enough piece of work with some great covers of some very good Beatles songs. You could do worse.