Review- JoJo Rabbit
As awards season ramps up, one of the most talked-about films of 2019 gets the year off to a bang with Jojo Rabbit. The latest project from acclaimed director Taika Waititi, director of hits such as What We Do in the Shadows and a little film called Thor: Ragnarok, gives us the tale of a young boy and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.
As shocking as the concept sounds, it's actually based off a book by Christine Leunens called Caging Skies, a darker story than that depicted by Waititi, known for his oddball humour and alternative tales. Jojo Rabbit tells the story of Johannes, a young boy who is apart of the Hitler Youth programme during the end of the second World War. Johannes or Jojo as he comes to be known has his world completely changed when separated from the rest of the Nazi youths and starts to help the war effort in his hometown. With his Mother often out of the house, Jojo soon discovers she has helped a young Jewish girl, Elsa, to hide out in their attic, away from the Nazis.
With Jojo playing such a big part of this story, the casting here was of course essential. A first-time role for young Roman Griffin Davies, the film largely works due to his enthusiasm and commitment to the story. The entire cast elevates the film with the likes of Scarlett Johansen and Sam Rockwell bringing their A-game as always, along with great comics such as Stephen Merchant and Taika himself who plays imaginary Hitler (he might play real Hitler too, but spoiler, the film doesn’t go down that rabbit hole). Archi Yates, another young and fresh face also steals the show as Jojo’s friend Yorki, who relishes in many of the limited scenes we get with him.
While there certainly aren't any bad performances, the casting and character played by Rebel Wilson does come off as forced, and simply there as the easy choice for a comedic actress. With other surprises such as Alfie Allen from Game of Thrones, and a grounded performance from Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa), it is clear the cast is not only collectively great but also all on top form, making Wilson somewhat stand out.
The script gives our actors fun and witty dialogue, hilariously satirising the war, the Fuhrer and his followers. We are given many scenes and moments just there to put a smile on your face, making it all the more refreshing from this alternative story, something we need in an often-repetitive film industry.
Stephen Merchant’s sequence, in which his character and fellow members of the Gestapo arrive at Jojo’s house for an inspection is filled with great gags, and running jokes, mainly poking fun at the Nazi’s use of the phrase “heil Hitler”.
Waititi as Hitler is fun, though at times somewhat jarring, feeling like it may have played better were it not the well-known director in the role. That being said, someone with Waititi’s enthusiasm and demeanour would certainly be hard to come by, and if there is a danger of causing offence, then Waititi certainly opens himself up to it and sticks by his decisions in playing this version of the famous dictator. With the actor/director being Maori/Jewish himself, he saw it as a beautiful irony to be playing the part, having been quoted as saying; "what better 'fuck you' to the guy?"
His laid back and enthusiastic attitude helps you understand Jojo, with funny troupes like offering him cigarettes working better than the modern language and predictable gags he also incorporates.
Ultimately though, what Waititi brings is behind the camera, giving the script and visuals its heart and charm helping make this sweet story about overcoming hate and understanding others. The film is shot with vivid colour and a style, with Waititi wanting to capture the fashionable and happy side that was a part of Germany during the war. Colourful and rustic costumes, along with gorgeous wide and tracking shots really help to sell this idea in the first third of the film, while later showing the detail and reality of warfare in the final act.
The set design, the shoes (they’re important trust me) and props (Jojo’s book in particular) all have fantastic detail and all blend perfectly with the world that is too helped by a charming and melodic score from Michael Giacchino.
Jojo Rabbit will have you laughing from its ludicrous moments and comedic script, as well as crying from its touching and emotional moments, again sold by the performances and bold imagery Waititi expertly sets up during the film. The script paints a fantastic picture of Jojo's mother, who like Jojo himself, is layered with charming details and quirks used to give her and her son great chemistry. Elsa and Jojo are given touching and charming scenes, also aided by the great song choices that are sprinkled through the film, to give the film an almost rock n roll aesthetic.
Story-wise the interactions between Jojo and his mother are some of the best moments in the film, and while the light-hearted humour and interactions that come from Jojo and Elsa, are great, it often feels like Jojo's family (or lack of it) is the more important story. With references to Jojo's father and sister, it would have been nice to know more about them or see them, especially when the mother's story of harbouring a jew and replacing a daughter is quite harrowing.
Jojo Rabbit is a charming and refreshing film, not simply about a young Nazi and his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, but a story of love, family and perspective. As a satire, it has great jokes and plenty of moments to make you smile, even though Wilson and Waititi might have the most predictable dialogue of all. If this is your only watch during this awards season then you’ll certainly have made a great choice thanks to its variety and heart-warming moments.