Oh satire, how you are such a tough nut to crack especially in this day and age. Lean too far into the humor and it can become an obnoxious parody. Tread too lightly and it will be forgotten before it hits VOD. Almost as soon as news broke about the plot for Jojo Rabbit people were on edge. The story of a Hitler youth who’s imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself. Yikes, that definitely does not look good on the outside. However, there is of course the film’s director Taika Waititi who is the film’s ace in the hole. Anyone who’s familiar with the man’s filmography knows he has a wicked sense of humor. The trailers looked pretty straightforward, but there is in fact more to this film than a two and a half minute trailer can provide.
“Nothing makes sense anymore.”
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is your typical ten year old boy… except that as I mentioned he’s goose stepping around his hometown in Germany during WWII with an infamous imaginary friend (Taika Waititi). After fizzling out at a training camp Jojo divides his time between menial tasks or staying home with his mother (Scarlett Johansson). While home he discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) a young Jewish girl hiding. Between advice from Hitler, the indifferent officer running the youth camp (Sam Rockwell) taking little interest in such matters, and spending time with Elsa herself Jojo is wrestling some hard questions of who he is and what he stands for. That’s some pretty heavy stuff for a kid to deal with. And to me this is what makes the film so fascinating.
“You two seem to be getting on well!”
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn hate they can be taught to love.” These famous words sit at the core of this film. Following him from a boy giddy to burn books and hunt Jews to slowly understanding who Elsa is and questioning his imaginary friend’s teachings. This right here is the main crux of the film. Using the window dressing of a slapstick comedy in its first two acts we get lulled into assuming the goofiness will carry through. Things take a turn that pulls the story into some gut wrenching territory. The pivot of the tone may throw some off, but for me it hit with just the right impact.
It is nice to see talented actors like Johansson and Rockwell along with Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen in the supporting cast, but the strength lies in the two young leads. I was truly surprised to see that that this was Davis’ first film. He has a natural presence that makes you root for Jojo in spite of his naïve beliefs. This film is one hell of a way to begin what will hopefully be a great career. After last year’s Leave No Trace I’ve been wishing nothing but the best for McKenzie. Here she’s firing on all cylinders. Fiery one minute taking Jojo to task for his beliefs. Hilarious when she’s feeding Jojo ‘information’ about Jewish people. And vulnerable towards the end, while Davis may be the heart of the film McKenzie is definitely the soul.
“I am going home to my mother. I need a cuddle.”
I could go on about Jojo Rabbit, but what’s the point? Hilarious, heartbreaking, and a dash of optimism. Taika Waititi has crafted a beautiful film that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of satire. His track record as a director remains unblemished. While we wait for his return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe I recommend checking out this one and his often overlooked Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
But I digress, its films like Jojo Rabbit that keep me hopeful for the future of the theatre going experience. While $100+ million films get thrown onto screens I am utterly thankful that a film like this got booked into a theatre in South Dakota.
Overall Score 4.5/5