Tag Archives: Rebel Wilson

TIFF19: Jojo Rabbit

I love director Taika Waititi more than makes sense, more than is reasonable by any standard. His absurd sense of humour speaks to me. His arch commentary on the perfectly banal is what I live for. So it was with a heavy heart that I stepped out of the packed theatre and admitted to Sean, who’d rushed the film unsuccessfully (festival vernacular: “rushing” means standing in line for hours when you don’t have a ticket, in case some ticket holder doesn’t show), that Jojo Rabbit was just okay. And I kept up that ambivalence for all of 30 seconds before confessing that I’d loved loved LOVED it, despite having solemnly promised not to rub it in if he didn’t make it in. Sorry, Sean. Jojo Rabbit was fucking awesome.

It’s about a little boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) living in 1940s Germany. He’s a good little Nazi boy, an unthinking fanatic; his bedroom walls plastered with propaganda posters that reflect his somewhat innocent claim “I’m massively into swastikas.” So he’s utterly broken-hearted when he flunks out of Nazi sleepaway camp. He’ll never know the honour of serving in Hitler’s Guard. His father went away to war and hasn’t been heard from since so it’s just him and his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). What’s a devastated little fellow to do with no father figure around? Invent an imaginary friend, of course, and why not aim high and adopt everyone’s favourite Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) himself?

Jojo Rabbit is a satirical comedy about learned hate. It’s sympathetic to this child who blindly loves and trusts in Hitler, but doesn’t yet have a taste for blood or violence. Hitler is his Batman, his hero, but he’s about to learn that all heroes are flawed. And some turn out to be villains. But first, there’s a complication. Of course there’s a complication, as if growing up the outcast in Hitler’s Germany wasn’t hard enough. There’s a monster in the attic – or, in fact, a Jew (bless you), named Elsa (Thomasin Mckenzie). Jojo’s mom is hiding her so the secret must be kept. Hangings in the town square remind us of the stakes. But this pull between duty to his family and to his country creates an awful lot of pressure for one small boy, especially when his imaginary friend is quite critical of the situation, and Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a soldier who’s befriended him, is a little too close for comfort. It’s obviously a disorienting time for him, to find out inch by inch that the real monster is his imagined friend, and the girl in the attic is in fact a lot like him. Imagine the dissonance, the panic, the confusion, the revulsion.

Scarlett Johansson gets the chance to clown around as a mother trying her best to get her young son through a terrifying, grueling war. I can’t remember seeing her this loose and free on the screen before, which is ironic considering the character is rife with burden. In many ways, the mother is the most grounded character; you feel the weight of her responsibility, but also her vitality. She’s not merely trying to survive a war – she’s living. This is her now. Even when the world has gone to shit, there is no pause button. Sons must be raised. Homes must be kept. Jews must be hidden. But still, there is dancing.

Jojo is a complex character, embodying both hatred and innocence in one 10 year old body. It would have been critical to find the perfect and, I imagine, rare talent to fill the role, but believe me, this kid is up for it. He plays against McKenzie particularly well, who is in fact not a monster but a moody and sometimes bratty teenage girl. Neither is strictly the sinner nor the saint history imagines them to be. The two form the most tenuous, the most fraught of bonds, but it’s enough. Familiarity is often enough. It is a cultivator of hope, a vanquisher of fear.

My favourite scenes, however, are when Jojo’s imaginary pal Hitler drops by. Taika Waititi plays him without hindsight; his Hitler doesn’t yet understand how history will judge him. He still thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips. Waititi plays him fey, embracing the absurd conflict and duality of the character who is of course the architect of evil but also just a very small and not very brave man. He has fun with it but never forgets who this man is or why we hate him.

And it probably goes without saying that Sam Rockwell is having a ball. He’s done wild satirical stuff before so he approaches this with guts and gusto. Which is not to say that anyone in the cast fails to bring the necessary sensitivity to a movie like this. They do. But they also remember that no matter where they fall on the scale of good to evil, they were all just human beings.

It’s an interesting choice to go to Nazi Germany to deliver such a powerful message of anti-hate but where else would it have so much impact? And who else would endeavour to take it on except the fearless Taika Waititi, for whom rules seem not to apply. We worry about which subjects can be spoken of, and which can be made fun of, but the answer is pretty much anything if it’s funny enough. And Jojo Rabbit is funny enough – funny enough to counter hate with laughter, and isn’t that a beautiful thing? At another movie I saw at TIFF this year, Mr. Rogers reminded us that “anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable.” Jojo Rabbit helps us talk about difficult things. It’s an important act of remembrance, and Waititi shows us that even if we’re burning out on all those war stories, there can (and must) still be new and inventive ways of remembering. It’s not just a comedy. It made me laugh and it made me cry, but most of all it moved me to think of these people as human, like me. And how things got away on them little by little until it was too late. History repeats itself, but it’s not too late for us. Not yet.

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The Hustle

A small-time con-woman named Penny (Rebel Wilson) meets a big-time con-woman named Josephine (Anne Hathaway) and they inevitably tangle antlers. But then they decide to work together – Penny wants to learn from a mentor, and Josephine’s always had a con in mind that needs two people. But of course they’re still also working each other and eventually things get messy. Because while Josephine goes after big fish with an air of sophistication and a veil of class, Penny is loud and brassy and calls an awful lot of attention to herself for someone who probably should want to remain under the radar.

The two agree to settle their differences with one ultimate bet: whoever fails to extract $500K from their mark first has to leave town forever. Their mark is a rich young tech millionaire who seems almost completely guileless – Thomas (Alex Sharp, MV5BNTM1MzI4NjM1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2MDE0NzM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_who clearly answered the casting call for a Mark Zuckerberg type and fits the hoodie perfectly). Penny poses as a blind woman to remind Thomas of his blind grandmother, and Josephine as the German doctor who can possibly treat her (hysterical, don’t ask) blindness. There are a thousand princes in Nigeria who could tell you this scam is unnecessarily convoluted, but where’s the fun in that?

Anne Hathaway has clearly been working on some accents, and here they all are. Rebel Wilson always has a breathless charm about her but I’m sick to death of her having to play roles for women lacking physical self-confidence. We get it: she’s fat. Hollywood continues to go out of its way to reassure us that they know she doesn’t belong. Here’s another character who feels unworthy because of her weight. Um, really? You do know it is entirely possible for someone to be fat AND confident. And more importantly, it’s extremely possible to be fat and still do your job, and do it well, and not make a whole thing about how much you weigh while you’re doing it. Wilson brings so much energy to all of her roles it’s exhausting to watch her, and a little uncomfortable too, because her body is so often the punchline and that’s not a joke I want to be in on.

The script is pretty uninspired, filled with the usual cons you’ve seen dozens of times before: men being duped into proposing with enormous rings, stealing diamond jewels, casino heists, etc. It’s a gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that is simply too lazy to be any good; they don’t bother to update the jokes and there’s a deep chasm where subversive feminist comedy should have gone.. There are isolated laughs but nothing consistent. A training montage that for some reason includes clearing a pommel horse and uncorking a champagne bottle is particularly cringe-worthy. Hathaway and Wilson are fine, but they don’t have particularly good chemistry and it’s frankly upsetting to watch them be wasted on a movie whose only true con is the one that bilked you out of a $12 movie ticket.

 

 

 

Isn’t It Romantic

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is no fan of the rom-com. She thinks romantic movies are not for her – perhaps love itself is not for her. She feels invisible most of the time. She’s timid at work. She doesn’t think that anything magical will ever touch her life.

And when she gets mugged on the way home from work one evening, it seems like an affirmation of all of the above – except when she wakes up, the bump on her head has her living in an alternate universe that resembles very closely the rom-coms that she so spurns. The rules and the irony are simple: she’s got to make someone fall in love with her to escape this fate, and suddenly the hunky billionaire who¬† never noticed her before is all over her.

The movie rolls its eyes at all the usual romance cliches, but then indulges in them in a riot of colour and open-armed enthusiasm, as if mocking the tropes gives permission to MV5BMjI4Mjg3OTk0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3MzEzNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1485,1000_AL_be unabashedly embrace them. But whatever, it’s fun, or fun enough. Rebel Wilson makes it work just by virtue of her own irrepressible personality. Larger than life, she somehow sells both sides of Natalie’s persona, the wallflower and the cheeky peony she becomes. Reteamed with Adam Devine, her cocky love interest from Pitch Perfect, the two have an easy chemistry that’s fun to sing along with – and believe me, this movie has more sing-along opportunities than most. You’ve really got to be on board with the vibrant cheese in order to enjoy this movie. It pretends to be cynical but it’s really not. If your sense of Valentine’s is at all gothic or ironic, move on. Love is in the air, in a pretty conventional way. Isn’t It Romantic is a piece of fluff that will soon be forgotten in the rom-com canon, but it’s light and airy and a fairly entertaining 90 minutes. More or less.

Pitch Perfect 3

The Barden Bellas from the first 2 movies are back, but they’ve been replaced. Having finally graduated from college, a new crop of girls is singing acapella at their alma matter and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete. Shitty jobs aren’t panning out and dreams are already broken, and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete (I know! Who would have guessed that majoring in mouth music wasn’t really the best life choice?!). A last ditch effort to reunite comes in an invitation to perform for the troops in a USO show and since the Bellas have literally nothing else going on (except for one unwanted pregnancy), off they go to a warn-torn Spanish resort hotel to do their part.

Now you might think that being in a war zone is the toughest part of this new chapter, but in fact, to the Bellas, because they’re not crazy AT ALL, the worst part is dimscompeting against bands that play instruments. How dare they! I thought college was supposed to prepare you for the real world but these ladies are literally not even prepared for guitars. Yeesh. (Not to give too much credit to the new “bands”, including Evermoist, led by Ruby Rose, because after seriously mocking the Bellas for being a “cover band”, it turns out they all do covers too! A Cranberries tribute is particularly poignant with the recent death of Dolores O’Riordan.)

Anyway. There was absolutely no call to make a third movie here, and the script strains so hard to justify itself you’ll want to buy it a squatty potty. If you absolutely must watch it, you’ll want to wait until it’s available at home, where you can fast-forward to all the Sia bits and avoid the inane “plot” (though you’ll want to hear John Lithgow sing with an Australian accent at least once, just to say you did). It’s pretty clear that this franchise needs to learn the same lesson the Bellas do: moving on is good.