*Warning! There will be some light spoilers in this review! If you want to remain completely in the dark then I caution you not to read further- though I do recommend the film on it’s merits.*
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit” is a dark comedy satire about an overzealous ten year old boy growing up in 1940’s Germany. This wartime comedy performs a balancing act so perfectly poised to elicit boisterous good cheer alongside a dark and grim real world sadness that you’d think Taika Waititi was a genius or a madman for taking on such a ridiculous, yet potent, concept. Waititi has, once again, proven he has a knack for finding excellent child actors and helping to coax memorable and competent performances out of them. Both Roman Griffin Davis as the titular Jojo, and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, showcase excellent skill as young actors and it’ll be very interesting to see what they do after this. Jojo is a normal ten year old boy, easily excitable and incredibly impressionable, he even has his own imaginary friend- but his is Adolf Hitler as a young boy might imagine him, played with cartoonish sensibilities by Taika Waititi himself. Though, occasionally, the depicted authority figure can get eerily close to the hatred fueled real life version. He lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and he goes to a Hitler youth camp alongside a friend in Yorki (Archie Yates) as they get groomed for war by playing with knives and grenades. After an incident at the camp Jojo returns home to discover a new reality that he must face. His mother has hidden a Jew (Thomasin McKenzie) in the crawlspace of their walls.
The crux of the film’s story rests on this conflict for Jojo, what will he do when confronted by a real person that he’s been taught to hate his entire life? As we’ve seen Jojo interact with those around him and the world at large for several scenes by this point, we’ve been with him and seen that he’s just a normal boy as Elsa puts it, “Who wants to wear a costume and be part of a club“. In fact, the movie’s title refers to his limited time at the Hitler youth camp in which he’s tasked to kill a small rabbit. Jojo can’t commit to the deed and is mocked for his inability to kill, “Jojo, the rabbit“. After Elsa and Jojo come to the agreement that they both need each other to keep their awareness of each other secret, Jojo begins to question Elsa about the Jews. Initially this is to make an account of “How to spot a Jew” and Elsa indulges him with heaps of sarcasm and jabs at Nazis in general, “We’re just like you, but human“. However the two slowly begin to come to an understanding as Jojo begins to question the nature of his authority figures. This relationship between one of blind fanaticism, Jojo, and of persecuted minority, Elsa, is at the core of the movie’s message. Namely, that personal relationships can prove the humanity between opposing factions, cutting through the power of propaganda and adult manipulation to see the truth. Oh, and to endlessly mock those who would hate others on the basis of ethnicity.
The surrounding cast may be small, but they’re no less critical to the film and it’s message. Both Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf and Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s Mother Rosie are excellent examples of those who would perform acts of rebellion in whatever ways they could from within the power structures they reside in respectively. They supplement the heart and common sense of the film, trying to fight the further indoctrination of family and friends within their communities without attracting the wrong kind of attention. Both of these characters are clever and have heart despite living in the heart of Nazi Germany, doing what they can, for who they can. Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen also have smaller roles as devoted Nazi underlings and both provide some decent comedic relief sprinkled throughout the film. If you can find a showing of this film, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. It may not surpass his earlier comedic work in “The Hunt for The Wilderpeople” for me personally, but it’s a pretty decent film that’s worth a watch.
Final Score: 7 German Shepherds