Jojo Rabbit (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson
“Love is the strongest thing in the world.”
That quote from Scarlett Johansson’s character in Jojo Rabbit perfectly cements what Taika Waititi’s brand new comedy-drama is all about. After conquering his home of New Zealand and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the Kiwi filmmaker’s next venture, of all places he could have gone, he returned to the indie scene once more to write and direct a satirical comedy set in World War 2 during the peak of the Nazi’s reign. Though this subject matter could very obviously be a turn off for a lot of filmgoers during this awards season, what Waititi is able to do with this film is not only use its setting as a unique subversion of expectations for its audience, but also use it to tell a thought provoking story that is able to use WW2 and the Nazi’s as backdrop to enforce a powerful message that should be embraced in times if division and uncertainty.
The film is set in Nazi Germany in the tail end of the war, where we follow ten year old kid, Jojo Betzler, who has deep love and adoration to the Nazi’s, including the fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, whom he shares as an imaginary friend, played hysterically by Taika Waititi. When he’s forced to stay home after suffering a severe accident at a Hitler Training Camp, he discovers that his mother has been keeping a Jewish girl named Elsa hidden away in their house, confirming her Anti-Nazi beliefs along with some secrets she has been keeping from him about their own family. As Jojo stays with Elsa hesitantly, and learns more about her troubled past and her Jewish heritage, it starts to make Jojo question his own beliefs in life along with how he views the Nazis for the horrible people that they are.
On the surface, being mostly a satirical comedy, Jojo Rabbit walks a fine line as it tries to make humour out of a time in our history where many died under the power and influence of Hitler and the Nazis. While this could come across as disingenuous from the outset, what Taika Waititi and his team do to ground this story and make it something worth telling is in the way he approaches the comedy and also integrates it along with some compelling drama. Jojo, for instance, is a character that is at first meant to be the embodiment of how many German kids during the war were like. He’s a naive kid who believes strongly that what Hitler and his tribe are doing means all the world of good, and his young, impressionable nature makes him, like all children his age the perfect influence to enforce these shallow beliefs onto. But when Elsa, the Jewish girl gets thrown into his life at the most inopportune moment, it’s what starts to make him finally realise that what he has believed in his whole life has been a complete farce. Through this, the film is able to find its footing in terms of its comedy very naturally, since it gives the opportunity for the filmmakers to really make the Nazis out as complete buffoons. Moronic lunatics who believe all Jews are scum, and really don’t have much to show for it in terms of genuine proof and just let their authority put them of utmost importance to the impressionable children they have to convert to Nazi soldiers. Through using the comedy to make morons out of the Nazis, the film is able to show how the contradiction between them and Elsa is far more apparent; showing how she is a very kind and sweet youth who has so much love and care to given despite being Jewish, that it only helps to enforce the film’s core message is. The film at its core is about embracing love over hate, and how in times where people may seem divided, it’s more important to unite as one and overcome whatever challenges could be thrown at us. It’s through that amazing blend of huge laughs and compelling drama that Jojo Rabbit finds in amazing footing and gives it more purpose than to just make a mockery out of the Nazis for the sake of it.
It also lends well to the cast and their performances. Roman Griffin Davis makes his acting debut as Jojo, and especially for a kid his age, he makes for a very compelling kid, managing to perfectly capture the idea of a kid warped by the society he is apart of, only for it to get shattered by Elsa’s introduction to his life. His naivety also makes Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Adolf hitler in the film work well, since what we are seeing on screen is Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of the fuhrer. He is completely played for laughs, but it works in the film's favour since this version of Hitler is how a lot of young kids would likely imagine what he was like during that time, making him an absolute riot to watch on screen, but also displaying quite the sinister presence when he picks up on how Jojo is warming up to Elsa and perhaps straying away from his Nazi beliefs. As for the rest of the cast, Scarlett Johansson, who plays Jojo’s mother is a joyous addition, basically being a voice of reason to the film’s core message of love very early on in the film. She has an endearing personality, being a complete jokester to keep Jojo grounded and acting like a kid, whilst also showing a sincere side when paired with Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, who also helps to enforce the film’s themes by remaining very quiet and cheeky when needing to. Their softer and more innocent roles also help to contradict them to the more comedic performances from Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant who all play a group of idiotic Nazis where it’s their unique comedic delivery that thematically helps contrast them to the other cast members.
As for the technical side, Jojo Rabbit absolutely deserves some Awards this season as far as the Production Design and Cinematography is concerned. The film looks very nice, using soft colours and tons of propaganda to recreate Nazi Germany in both its bright and also dark undertones. Credit should be given to the Director of Photography, Mihai Mălaimare Jr, who uses a lot of symmetrical framing very reminiscent to the films of Wes Anderson which help to make the film feel like a unique time capsule to a period of history, whilst also keeping everything in terms of visual and aesthetic consistently intriguing and never boring to watch. Michael Giacchino’s score is also terrific as always with him, as he uses instruments of classic anthems to give the film a very German soundtrack, and the inclusion of licensed pop songs translated into the German language is also a nicely fitting touch. The editing by Tom Eagles could have used a bit of fine tuning, since the film’s pacing can be a little too slow during the 2nd act, but given how time needed to be given to show how Jojo’s character arc was changing slowly yet consistently, it feels more like a nitpick than a genuine problem.
Jojo Rabbit is a film that realistically should not work given its controversial subject matter, along with the usage of satirical comedy to make a mockery out of some of the most horrifying political leaders of the 20th Century. But because Taika Waititi clearly had such an deep passion to tell a good story, he clever uses satire as a way to make Nazi Germany the perfect backdrop to preach a moral about accepting love and quite literally going to war with hate of any kind. The film is a feast for the senses in terms of how it looks and plays out, and the cast does a remarkable job on both the serious and silly sides, to show a side to history that we may have never noticed on a deeper, philosophical level. It’s difficult to truly critique a film like Jojo Rabbit, especially since a film like this is inevitably going to have its retractors who believe that a film such as this should not exist. But in a way, by not allowing a satire about the Nazis to be made in the first place, is like pretending that those times never even existed, which is the wrong kind of message to send to people when it needs to be remembered so that a horrible predicament such as that never happens again. In the end, it displays how there is such a remarkable beauty to comedy and how it can be used to make us laugh away our anxieties and help us become closer to the ones we truly love and appreciate. And that is why Jojo Rabbit deserves some commandment: because Taika Waititi found a way to make this story work and he achieved it with flying colours.
FINAL RATING: 9/10 (EXCELLENT)
Hugely funny comedy, integrated with good drama.
The performances by Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi.
A surprising amount of depth and emotion.
The Production Design and Cinematography are excellent across the board.
A powerful and thought provoking message.
The pacing can be a bit too slow at times.