Review by Dieter Fouche
I honestly never expected to find myself even watching a satire film about something as horrific as World War II, much less one that portrays Hitler as the screeching goofball imaginary friend to a 7-year old German boy who questions his beliefs, but here we are.
On the surface, that premise would seem to delve into the realm of bad taste by making light of such a sombre topic. That Jojo Rabbit was written and directed by Taika Waititi though – the filmmaker who gave us Thor: Ragnarok, undoubtedly one of Marvel’s funniest additions to the franchise, as well as indie darlings like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and cult comedy What We Do in the Shadows – made all the difference though.
From the opening frames of the movie, I was smiling. Within two minutes that had ramped up to all-out laughter and it never stopped from there. Waititi has always had a knack for offbeat comic timing and quirky dialogue spoken by unique characters, and he excels in those aspects here as he adapts Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies for the screen (a feat which earned him a well-deserved Oscar).
Bringing Waititi’s work to life, the superb cast manages to each capture a piece of your heart in their truly memorable performances. This is especially true of Scarlett Johansson as the mother of protagonist Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (played by Roman Grifin Davis), a young Hitler Youth member in war-torn Nazi Germany who discovers his family is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. As this revelation completely upends Jojo’s entire worldview, the young boy has to contend with his hate-fueled Nazi indoctrination versus what is right. And so – and I never thought I would ever follow-up those words with these – cue much hilarity.
Waititi has assembled an all-star supporting cast with Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen each playing the funniest Nazi stereotypes you could imagine. Alongside Johansson’s genuinely warm turn, they all put in fantastic efforts, but it’s the small roles which really stood out to me. Characters like JoJo’s best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates), who delivers some of the driest one-liners I’ve ever heard, had me absolutely crying in laughter as I walked out of the cinema.
Meanwhile, Waititi himself plays Jojo’s aforementioned imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. This is not any Adolf Hitler you’ve ever seen before though, as Waititi puts in a hilariously buffoonish send-up of one of the most reviled men to ever live. As the filmmaker himself has explained in past interviews, while we have to be reticent of evil, we shouldn’t be in awe of it. Laughing at evil robs it of its power, exposing moustache-twirling villains for the cartoons they are.
It’s not just silly gags though, as, through Jojo and his family’s journey, there’s a whole lot of warmth to go with that whimsy. Waititi shows us that besides being hell, war can also be absurd, especially when viewed through the eyes of a child. That’s the tight-rope of tone and content throughout Jojo Rabbit that the filmmaker is walking here. It’s undoubtedly audacious, as this won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but Waititi somehow pulls off that impressive balancing act without falling. It also helps that with strong production values and Waititi’s deft eye for framing, combined with Michael Giacchino’s orchestral score, the film looks and sounds as good as it plays.
Jojo Rabbit was everything I never knew I was looking for in a cinematic experience, cementing my appreciation for Waititi’s skill as a storyteller. There’s something for everybody here: From those simply needing a good laugh, to those watching it for the harsh context it manages to turn into a beautiful exposé on the bonds of family and overcoming our own indifference. As delightful as it is insightful, this is a must-see film for everyone. Forgoing all of that, just checking out what is most definitely THE FUNNIEST representation of Hitler you have ever seen, is enough reason to watch this film.
Last Updated: February 19, 2020