JOJO RABBIT Review
New Zealand comedian Taika Waititi plays notorious Worst Human Being (1939-2016), Adolf Hitler, in a film about a Hitler Youth. How did this become the funniest and best movie of the year? Well, you get the guy who made vampires and alien gods funny.
Jojo Rabbit is the typical story of a boy and his imaginary friends and their wacky hijinks. Think Calvin & Hobbs but with Nazis. Jojo (Yates) is a member of the Hitler Youth who discovers a Jewish girl (Mackenzie) living in his attic. He must confront her while keeping her secret from the Gestapo and his mother (Johansson), all while seeking advice from his imaginary version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi).
Jojo Rabbit is simply put, the best movie of 2019, through what it tackles and how it balances so much expertly and delivers the biggest laughs and cries of the year. Certain movies may take on topics like class inequality, but there is a clear approach to that theme; rich people suck and power corrupts absolutely. What takes real skill, is tackling stories of hate, oppression, childhood, family, faith, loyalty, fear and masculinity; all in one story. Also, while balancing satirical humour about the Third Reich, and heartfelt story telling.
Taika has proven himself a sharp comedy writer (and fashion icon) with Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeoplebut this is something else. He presents a dark point in history through the lens of the innocent corrupted by malicious hate, in what may appear to be a heightened version of reality, but is not far from the truth. One scene in particular sees Jojo caught in the middle of a battle as literal child clones charge defiantly into the slaughter, and crippled, old men shuffle off wearing suicide vests. Another sees Jojo finds his best friend Yorki and discuss “Nothing makes sense anymore”, with the response that “Definitely not a good time to be a Nazi”. These bone dry jokes about the fanatism and ridiculousness of hate is the style of the film and each one nails it. When confronted with Elsa, the girl in the attic, Jojo continually believes her depiction of Jewish people as cave like creatures that eat babies and have mind control powers. When asked where Jews live, Elsa draws a cartoon depiction of Jojo and responds, “We live inside your head”. Taika’s approach to Nazi’s (both old and new), is you’ve got to laugh at them. Cause it is fear of them that allows them to win; in reality they’re just weirdos that deserve nothing but to be laughed at.
The screenplay and script are only elevated by one of the best child performances ever with Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo. He has this wide-eyed wonder about him that he represses to be a “good German” and the “man of the house”, which makes it all the more tragic that this imaginative boy has become so cold. He also weaves in and out of outlandish comedic moments and absolutely heart-breaking moments like a professional. His is not the only performance to be commended; Thomasin Mackenzie as Elsa is a perfect match for Jojo. She is sly and playfully yet gives a more subdued performance than the rest of the cast but is the better for it, narratively. The other star is Archie Yates who plays Jojo’s real best friend Yorki, and while only a supporting character has some of the funniest and sweetest moments in the film. Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant and Rebel Wilson are in wonderful form as always but it is Taika’s writing that give these supporting characters surprising depth.
The use of music as well is unique, in particular the opening credits and the final, hopeful ending. With some exception, the soundtrack is comprised of well-known pop and rock songs, sung in German. For example, during the credits, The Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand in German plays over footage of ravenous crowds around Hitler, mimicking the Beatle Mania of the 60s; and David Bowie’s Heroes beautifully closes out the film.
Jojo Rabbit is a perfect film; hilarious, creative, intelligent, insightful, and powerful. Taika’s screenplay is award worthy, as are all the performances, in particular Roman Griffin Davis who gives one of the best child performances. It’s no mean feat making a dark comedy about war and hate, let alone doing it well; especially since the last person to do so successfully was Stanley Kubrick.