I don’t think anybody was expecting Taika Waititi to follow on from the success of Thor: Ragnorok with a comedy about a Hitler fanatic in 1940s Germany, but Jojo Rabbit is here and it is truly a masterpiece.
Written and directed by the great Taika Waititi and starring newcomer Roman Griffin Davis alongside a phenomenal line up of Hollywood’s finest talents; Jojo Rabbit is about a ten year old boy who strives to serve as part of Hitler’s army who discovers his mother is hiding a jew in the home. Also, Hitler is his imaginary best friend.
Trust the reviews: this is a film that will go down in history.
Taika Waititi has successful crafted what I think is one of the first genuinely sensitive farces of not only WW2, but the man behind it himself. Adolf Hitler was such a genuinely terrible person of existence to depict anything about him for so long would have been insensitive, but here Waititi paints a compassionate film that is clear on it’s viewpoint from the opening scene.
It’s like taking ‘Springtime For Hitler’ from The Producers and making it almost the whole focus of the film. Back in 1967, it was far too soon for a concept like that to carry a film alone, and was cleverly imbedded into a bigger story; but here in 2019 we’re finally at a point where we can do this.
It’s brilliant writing. It’s somehow naturally compassionate against the subject matter that’s being perpetuated by the young protagonist. I also can’t remember the last time I saw a film that made the whole audience laugh and gasp in unison like this.
This cast is a sensation.
The young actor in the titular role is Roman Griffin Davis, who floored me. Astonishingly this is his debut role, and at eleven he has gained a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Deservedly so, as he has real talent and he is the one to be leading this whole story amongst a cast of established actors with nominations and awards under their belt. It’s clear from the start that Jojo is a character to like, and actually be pitied – he’s unknowingly a victim of Nazi propaganda, and for that reason you route for him from the start.
Opposite him for a lot of parts of the film is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish girl in Jojo’s mother’s protection. McKenzie has been simmering under the radar for a little while now, but this will be her huge break out role, because she is quietly fascinating to watch perform. She’s excellent at playing both the sassy young adult and the scared little girl that Elsa is.
An obvious standout is Scarlett Johansson, who is shockingly good as Jojo’s mother. She’s a loving yet eccentric, ballsy woman with a wonderful parenting style and is honestly the beating heart of the film. Johansson has been on her A game as of late, and this really is no different – I can’t even say whether it’s here or in Marriage Story where she gives her better performance as they’re both so different and so exceptional in very different ways.
A joyful addition to the film is Sam Rockwell as Captain K, veteran and leader of the young boy’s organisation. He’s delightfully campy, and skilfully nuanced as this Nazi leader with more to him than meets the eye (is that insensitive to say if his character is blind in one eye?). Rockwell is always a brilliant performer, but this role seems so tailor made for him I wouldn’t be surprised if Waititi had written it with him in mind.
Also appearing in smaller supporting roles are Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and the young Archie Yates; all of whom get big laughs from the audience (though I’m sure Merchant fully lost his German accent at one point). I was really pleasantly surprised by all; and think the way Waititi works with them all brings out only the best of each of them.
Of course, there’s also Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler himself. Waititi himself is Maori/Jewish and has been said to have played the role because “The answer’s simple, what better ‘fuck you’ to the guy?”.
He is delightfully comedic, seen through a young boy’s eyes; but there are moments where it’s a millimetre away from being too real. I’m not sure if that was Waititi’s intention, or if that’s just unavoidable due to the person he’s playing, but I definitely could feel the tension in the room whenever he got a little too shouty. Regardless, it’s a fascinating performance, and to come from the writer/ director no less.
The story is beautifully crafted, and the dial of tension slowly gets turned up as the film goes on as Germany begins to lose it’s power. Jojo Rabbit is really a coming of age film, in every sense of the phrase. It begins with a tender young boy with an idol, and ends in very different circumstances.
There are several stand out moments, though the one anyone who has seen the film will remember most is that one. It is a sudden punch to the gut. I won’t dare spoil it because it was executed perfectly, but when you see it you’ll know what I mean because it’s one of the most impacting film scenes in late years.
Historically, some creative liberty was taken; but instead of being factually accurate it perfectly captures the essence of the events and those experiencing them at the time.The whole idea of a children’s fan club glorifying Hitler is genuinely horrifying to the point where it becomes comedic, and to see attention paid to it fascinates me.
I loved the cinematography in this film. Mihai Malaimare Jr. creates some stunning shots, bold framing and gorgeous slow motion scenes, and the bright colouring makes for a vivid, lively Germany that’s so unlike how we’re used to seeing the war depicted. It’s all the more harrowing, with all the darkness placed as normal in amongst the glamour.
The film uses classic songs from the likes of The Beatles and David Bowie, but sung in German, which I thought was such a simple yet genius way of making a soundtrack. In the opening titles, it utilises this to depict Hitler as a pop star, with crowds screaming and saluting in his honour. It’s such a different tone than what we usually see, but it works so well at establishing this story we know all too well but from a very, very different viewpoint.
I also adored the costumes – absolutely stunning work from Mayes C. Rubeo, fulfilling Waititi’s vision of having a fashionable, bright Germany depicting the country’s people trying to stay hopeful in a time of hatred.
I thought that Jojo Rabbit was beyond stellar. It drops half a mark for a few jokes not fully landing, and the occasional moment where it became too real and impossible to laugh at, but I do believe that this is a film that has to be seen. It’s beautifully heartfelt, funny and moving.
Truly and honestly, it’s a film for the history books.
Jojo Rabbit is in UK cinemas from January 1st