A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Taika Waititi’s offbeat sensibilities have delivered one of the best indie movies of recent years (‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) and one of the best Marvel movies (‘Thor: Ragnarok’), and his latest film is undoubtedly his greatest challenge yet. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is a comedic drama about the Nazis set in wartime Germany, and that premise will either have you intrigued or running for the hills. It has unsurprisingly proven divisive so I was perhaps surprised that I find myself sitting on the fence in terms of my feelings on the film. Ultimately I found the tonal dissonance too much to work, but I didn’t think ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was without merit, even as its ambition outstrips its execution.
Our protagonist is ten year old Jojo (the superb newcomer Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic Hitler Youth member living in Nazi Germany during the latter stages of the war. He lives in a home tinged with tragedy alongside his mother (Scarlett Johansson), with the sceptre of his recently deceased sister and absentee father looming large over the family home. Jojo’s best friend is his imaginary friend, who happens to be a version of Adolf Hitler, played by director Waititi and a representation of what a child may imagine Hitler to be like. For me, this element doesn’t really work and I felt in microcosm it sums up the issues I have with ‘Jojo Rabbit’, which never manages to balance its comedic elements with the darker tragedy that becomes more prominent as the film goes on.
The central thrust of the story ‘Jojo Rabbit’ explores comes to the fore when Jojo discovers that his mother is hiding a young jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie, of the underrated ‘Leave No Trace’) in their house, and he’s forced to question the prejudice he’s been trained into feeling towards Jewish people. The film uses satire and comedy as a shield to dig into more serious issues and I felt the film has its moments when this unconventional blend works really well, but the strongest moments are when it leans into the drama and forgets the comedy, and perhaps a better film could have been made about this subject if it forgot about the comedy. However, that’s not the film Taika Waititi is trying to make, and for better or worse, this is an ambitious and messy movie that didn’t entirely work for me. That’s not to say I didn’t laugh and there are some great comedic performances (Stephen Merchant’s cameo is a delight), but it rarely sits well alongside the inherent darkness of the subject matter and too often the comedy undercuts the films attempts to make serious points.
‘Jojo Rabbit’ is Waititi’s most ambitious film yet and the best praise I can give it is that it aims high and it’s got some really good performances, but this is a difficult subject to tackle in this style and I could never get fully on board with the awkward blend between comedy and drama.
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell and Archie Yates