Review: Jojo Rabbit

This film hasn’t had an official release yet but it’s festival run has divided viewers, it was a heady topic for Taika Waititi to take on but he isn’t afraid of a challenge. Jojo Rabbit follows a young boy, dedicated to the Nazi cause, whose imaginary best friend is Hitler but finds out that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Archie Yates, Stephen Merchant and of course, Taika Waititi himself as Hitler.

It’s easy enough to tell that if you didn’t like Waititi’s previous films, you probably won’t like this one, he has a very clear writing and directing style but for the rest of you still open to his fabulous filmmaking, there’s plenty to enjoy. He’s a triple threat, directing, writing and starring in the film and while the idea of casting himself in the role of imaginary Hitler was pretty outrageous, it flat out works. He’s so natural and casual in the role that it should almost be disconcerting, if it weren’t for the fact that this is a 10 year old’s imaginary version of a heinous war criminal and not an actual imitation. Bizarrely, that’s not the most surprising thing, he’s undoubtedly hilarious in this role and some of the moments he has with Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) are perfect little gems but in the scheme of things, he’s not particularly important, he’s there for the comedy but his role is not entirely essential to the story.

Once things really get going, you start to put imaginary Hitler to one side and focus on what this film is really about, a young boy trying to figure out the messed up world that he lives in, whether the horrible things he’s indoctrinated with are actually true. We’re talking about a 10-year old boy who, as you’ll see in the trailer, manages to almost blow himself up, trying to wrap his mind around one of the most horrendous periods of history, while being slap bang in the middle of it, and even still he manages to slowly realise that what he believes in is wrong. That’s just the first of many reasons why if you have no emotional resonance with this story, you may just be a sociopath. Boil it all down and this is a film about love and friendship, in a time where both are in fairly short supply, starting with Jojo’s relationship with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). This is the year for Johansson, no-one is arguing that she isn’t brilliant in Avengers but that’s not where she shines, every so often we get to see her in films like Lost in Translation, Scoop or Her, and early reviews set her up to knock audiences dead with Marriage Story and the grace, confidence and charisma that she bursts with in Jojo Rabbit is a pleasure to watch, returning her to top form.

Davis himself as Jojo is so sweet and naïve, he’s a joy to watch but when he gets to be onscreen with non-imaginary best friend Yorki (Yates), you’ll need to have your “aww” button at the ready because their friendship is so charming, it may melt your heart. Leading you to the most important relationship that Jojo builds, becoming friends with the Jewish girl living in the walls, Elsa (McKenzie), forcing him to re-evaluate the ridiculous information he’d been given about Jewish people, including thinking that they have horns. McKenzie is superbly quick witted and coy as Elsa, bringing Jojo round to the truth by showing him just how ridiculous his beliefs about Jewish people really are and he’s at the perfectly vulnerable age for her to have some fun doing it, creating a nice banter between the two.

The film is consistently funny and fantastically eccentric but it takes a distinct turn into sadness and the darkness of the war, it doesn’t shy away from it, it adds just enough of the destruction and gloom to make it a well rounded film. Obviously, it’s not about to delve into the violent, gore filled side of things but there are a few scenes that are heartbreaking, Sam Rockwell as Captain K shares a particularly moving moment with Jojo, which was an unexpected but well written scene. Rockwell is always an asset, he gives so much energy to every role and while he doesn’t get too much time here, he was a great casting choice and doesn’t disappoint.

Don’t be fooled by Jojo Rabbit’s hilarity and hijinks, it is going to try and break your heart. Taika Waititi has yet again proved why he’s such a brilliant filmmaker, taking a premise like this and giving it his unique voice and style was a huge risk but he’s achieved something new and different, especially in a time where studios are churning out war films one after another. Don’t miss out with this one, it’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s moving and it’s extremely funny.

Verdict: 9/10 | ✯✯✯✯

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