Movies about Nazis generally have a spotty past in the realm of Hollywood, award nominations and pure box office performance.
Take Life is Beautiful, a Best Picture nominated film that netted over $230 million dollars worldwide off a $20 million dollar budget, and was the toast of the town during the 1997 awards landscape. There was Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, a Best Picture winner that netted over $322 million dollars off a $22 million dollar budget, and is generally considered a work of personal and creative triumph. And of course, who could forget, Jerry Lewis’ The Day The Clown Died, a 1972 movie about the holocaust that was so bad it was never released, was rumored to have been destroyed, and thus…netted less than zero million dollars worldwide off a budget no one ever talks about.
But that’s not really the you know what. The you know what is about Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, a comedy/drama about a young German boy who is training to be a good German and an even better Nazi and has an imaginary friend who just happens to be none other than Adolph Hitler.
The question is…does Jojo Rabbit have enough Hitler to make it a Hit?
From the moment Jojo Rabbit pulled the Audience Prize at the Toronto Film Festival (the same award that Green Book nabbed on its way to winning Best Picture), awards pundits have predicted that Jojo Rabbit could generate the same kind of outcome. But as the film as continued to play in theaters, the week over week decline in box office and screen count has people wondering if it’s reached the end of its rope. This past week, the film was only showing on 200-ish screens, down from it’s wider release of 900+ locations. And with no wins at last weekend’s Golden Globes awards, the question comes down to just what kind of nominations the film might nab for this year’s Academy Awards.
For a film with a slightly lower budget of $14 million (versus the other similarly-themed films we referenced above), the movie is only tracking to around $27 million in revenue, which won’t change unless something big happens for the film when nominations are revealed.
But perhaps the film just doesn’t have enough Nazi for a nomination.
There’s no question these stories need to be told. There’s no question that, in the past, they’ve inspired voters to embrace the stories and award them handsomely when they’ve gone there in a big way. But filmmakers and studios get nervous about the subject matter, as was evidenced by Disney’s reticence when they first looked at the movies they were going to be getting in the Disney/Fox merger. Still, Disney supported the release, and we don’t believe they would have done that had the movie been heavy on the Nazi or heavy on the drama like some of the past successes in the genre. The fact that they embraced the movie can be broken down to one very salient, important factor:
There’s just not enough Nazi.
We love the film. We think Waititi did an amazing job balancing wacky humor with a few, key, emotionally resonant moments. We think it has allowed Waititi to widen his audience and bring his trademark sense of humor to the masses in a way that his other, smaller films, had yet to do. But in pursuing the balance of humor, pathos and emotional moments, he also did himself a disservice when it comes to how the Academy voters see films of this kind. It generally doesn’t make audiences feel uncomfortable nor does it elicit the infamous ugly cry like movies Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful were able to pull, and it isn’t uniquely funny or laugh-out-loud in a way that would put it in the Wes Anderson camp of quirk.
And that’s the problem Jojo Rabbit has to contend with.
In a world where Oscar nominations don’t matter, and where awards aren’t a consideration, Jojo Rabbit is a perfectly amusing diversion written and directed by a uniquely-talented individual who is just at the beginning of a long, successful career. It’s populated by charming performances and a visual style that is compelling and fun.
But it just doesn’t have enough Nazi to make it a front runner.
It’ll get nominated for a screenplay award, and its young star (Roman Griffin Davis) will potentially nab a nomination for his performance in the film, but on the whole that will be about it. And that’s OK. That’s perfectly fine. For a film like Jojo Rabbit, which is unto itself, a curiosity of movie genre mash-ups that is surprising it even got made in the first place, it’s now a part of our cultural landscape and will be until either Armageddon comes (which may be soon) or movies are displaced by the genius of Quibi. But until those two very unrealistic outcomes occur…it’s here to stay.
And that’s OK. That’s even great. We embrace it.
Even without the Nazi.