Writer/director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) is known for his unapologetic, silly, deadpan style of humour that has become a hallmark of his films and created an original voice in cinema. His latest outing, the ‘anti-hate satire’ Jojo Rabbit is no different, taking on Hitler and the Nazis in a way it seems only he could.
The plot follows Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a member of the Hitler Youth who is a self-proclaimed “swastika fanatic” and has an imaginary friend named Adolf, which sees Waititi himself portray a hilarious caricature of the infamous leader, advising the young boy on how to be just like him. The film takes aim at the blind fanaticism of the German people during WW2 as it parodies Hitler and the Nazis, making a mockery of their ridiculous beliefs about Jewish people and generally just making them all look as silly as possible.
Whilst there’s a lot of humour, the film also tackles the weighty issues of the Holocaust and the plight of those in Germany attempting to help Jewish people. Though this causes a lot of problems in the film’s first and second act as the tone is constantly shifting and it seems to stagnate, the final act finds a perfect balance that makes for a truly triumphant, heartwarming ending that finds real heart and hilarity. The script is mostly fantastic and at times truly side-splitting, particularly when delivered by the film’s young characters and Waititi himself as Hitler. However, there are moments where the punchlines simply don’t land and it comes off as a little cheesy, which is unusual for a Waititi film.
There is an obvious dedication to achieving the right look of the period in Jojo Rabbit, which through exceptional production and costume design easily allows for the viewer to assimilate themselves into WW2 Germany. This is a film that is absolutely bursting with life and the ability to truly capture the period is certainly key creating this atmosphere. Towards the film’s climax, there is a scene featuring a superb set-piece that manages to blend all of its crazy elements together that makes for satisfying viewing and helps effectively tie the story up. The overall story and its tragic, redemptive arc for Jojo is completely charming and gives the film a real edge that should prove hugely popular to audiences and crucial to its awards season chances.
Most impressively, this is a film carried by two performances from a pair of young actors that seem assured beyond their years. Leading the film as Jojo is Roman Griffin Davis, who has surely made himself a star in his first ever on-screen outing with his unbelievable line delivery, accent work, emotion and energy he brings to the role, which is a most impressive feat. Opposite him is Thomasin McKenzie, who has again delivered on the promise she showed in Leave No Trace, balancing tragedy and comedy as the young Jewish girl that Jojo’s mum is secretly hiding in the house. Waititi is of course brilliant in his few scenes as Hitler, providing a large chunk of the film’s humour with his ridiculously over-the-top performance. As Jojo’s best friend Yorki, young Archie Yates also steals the few scenes he gets by being blissfully innocent and lovely.
Small supporting roles for Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mum, Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as a campy pair of Nazi soldiers and Stephen Merchant as a slimy Gestapo agent all have their individual moments of brilliance and Johnasson’s and Rockwell’s arcs provide key emotional moments in the story. Whilst there’s perhaps no awards worthy acting, it’s an excellent ensemble that seems to really work seamlessly together.
This isn’t a technical masterpiece, with no amazing camera or sound work, though dedication to creating a WW2 Germany backdrop through the film’s production and costume design deserves its plaudits. The tone and script falter at times but in general the story is impossible not to love and there is an abundance of laughs throughout. Lead by a star-making debut performance, Jojo Rabbit is an intelligent, thoughtful and hilarious satire of the Nazis done by the unique Taika Waititi that should be a real smash-hit.
Words by Elliott Jones