Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

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Jojo Rabbit – Film Review

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Director: Taika Waititi

Synopsis: When a young lad in the Hilter Youth finds out that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the attic of their house, he starts to question the ideology that’s been drummed into him from a young age…

Review: Whenever a comedy is pitched to a studio, it’s hard to imagine a premise would the centre of that pitch involve the presence of one of the most evil men of the 20th century and set slap bang in the middle of Nazi Germany. For it to also be pitched as a comedy/satire, it’s a concept that seems so absurd, there would have been a good chance that you’d get laughed out of the room. In the wrong hands, such an idea could have been a catastrophe of enormous proportions in its execution. Yet in the hands of Taika Waititi, the whimsical New Zealand comedian/director, it’s an absolute masterstroke.

When young Johannes (Davis) or Jojo for short, joins the Hitler Youth, his love for his country, and his naïve belief in its ideals knows no bounds. With his imaginary friend, an ethnically inaccurate (and considerably more moronic) version of Hitler by his side, he strives to complete his time at the Hitler Youth with flying colours. However, when he uncovers the startling secret that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (McKenzie) in the attic of his house, it brings Jojo back down to Earth with a jolt, and he must grapple with everything that has been taught to him throughout his childhood.

For his very first acting role, Roman Griffin Davis is nothing short of a revelation. He handles both the comedic elements of the story and the more dramatic moments like a seasoned actor with several roles already under his belt. Alongside him, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish girl hiding in the attic, gives a wounded, but impactful performance, in a role that represents the heart and soul of the film. For the rest of the supporting cast, everyone does their job tremendously well, and there’s not a single performance out of place. From Sam Rockwell’s Nazi Commanding Officer, to Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s compassionate mother. The true scene-stealer in all of this, is writer/director Waititi’s portrayal of the moronic version of Hitler. Any moment he pops into the frame, or opens his mouth, it will be next to impossible not to just burst into fits of laughter.

Adapted from the book Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy aspects with the much more dramatic/heavy moments. In Waititi’s signature idiosyncratic style, there’s tonnes of hilarious jokes peppered throughout the film. However, merging comedy with drama is always walking the very finest of fine lines, especially for a film set in this particular time period.  However, through Waititi’s skilled comedic timing and direction, the comedy never overshadows the moments of the film that require the audience to pause and reflect.

In a time when divisions in many societies across the world seem to be more fierce and toxic than ever, this is a very timely film. Poking fun at the absurdity of the Nazis and their ideologies is not exactly anything new and as such, the risk of the gags running out of steam very early on was very high. While the satirical nature of the comedy may not land with everyone, there’s a powerful message at the core of the film. Namely, it serves as a reminder of the power that love can conquer hate. Furthermore, despite any differences we share, there’s ultimately more that connects us, than separates us. Which, in this divisive era, is a message that society can definitely grab on to.

Blending satire with some heavy drama could have gone horribly wrong. Though, thanks to Waititi’s sharp screenplay and superb performances across the board, the end product is side-splitting and simultaneously incredibly poignant.

 

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