I DON'T KNOW about you, but I prefer to keep the giggles to a minimum during World War II movies. It just was not a charming time. The Book Thief opts for a Life Is Beautiful-esque approach to the war: What if we focus on the happy stuff?
I'll tell you what happens: It makes the audience super uncomfortable.
The Book Thief is about a young girl, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), in World War II Germany. After watching her brother die, Liesel is given by her mother to some cranky foster parents (the wonderful Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson). Liesel and her new family do regular German things together, like read and listen to the accordion and attend book burnings. One of Liesel's best friends, Rudy (Nico Liersh), is a sweet blond Hitler Youth who wears blackface. Her other best friend is Max (Ben Schnetzer), a friendly Jew her family is hiding in the basement.
As narrated by Death—as in, you know, Death—the novel The Book Thief is based on is as dark as it is sentimental. The film fails at capturing that balance: To show the dichotomy of childhood wonder during a time of genocide, we're given a goddamn montage of Nazi children singing about the superior German race spliced with shots of Jewish shopkeepers getting the shit kicked out of them. Then, as Liesel and Rudy get older and realize that, hey, war kinda sucks, they go to an idyllic mountain lake at sunset to yell, "I hate Hitler!" and freaking giggle. When Death's deep-voiced narration chimes in about the souls of innocents he will soon be claiming, the visuals are blue skies and puffy white clouds.
I'm not sure if I can properly convey how outrageously inappropriate it feels. I get that The Book Thief wants to say that there can be beauty and joy during the darkest of times, but it lays it on way too thick. In trying so hard to make the audience smile, they just made us cringe.