LFF 2019: Jojo Rabbit – Review

Release date – 1st January 2020, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Taika Waititi

A young boy (Roman Griffin Davis), who idolises Hitler to the point where he is his imaginary friend (Taika Waititi), discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house.

“People used to say a lot of nasty things about me. Oh, this guy’s a lunatic! Oh, look at that psycho he’s going to get us all killed!” mimics Taika Waititi in character of Adolf Hitler, sarcastically shrugging off the comments of other people before he became leader of Germany. Or rather, in character of Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10 year old boy whose dream it is to be the perfect Nazi; devoting himself as much as possible to the Hitler youth. After a harsh grenade incident, during an activity at a training camp, he takes it upon himself to roam around the local town with propaganda posters and leaflets. For those going in to Jojo Rabbit expecting a biting, scathing satire and commentary on modern politics this line of dialogue is almost as close as the film gets to the “anti-hate satire” tagline used on most of the marketing. Instead audiences are treated to the standard sweet Taika Waititi style of storytelling that many have grown to love over the last decade, with the likes of Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople.

While being set in Nazi Germany towards the height of World War Two there’s a great deal of warmth to this latest Waititi feature. Much of the story revolves around Jojo conversing with the Jewish girl he discovers living in the walls of his house. Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie (giving another wonderful turn after her stunning breakout role in 2018’s Leave No Trace), goes along with Jojo’s delusions based around Jewish stereotypes spread by the Nazi regime, using them against him so that she can stay safe in the walls of his house. As with much of the comedy in the film, endlessly ridiculing Hitler, the gestapo and basically everything to do with the Nazi regime, Waititi is never afraid to go deep with the finely tuned elements of drama. Elsa is very much a tragic character; attacked and scarred by the war, alone and afraid. When told by Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johansson) “you have lived a thousand lifetimes” she sorrowfully replies “I haven’t lived at all”. During a number of the more serious and sombre moments, especially in the third act, the film almost seems to recollect a feeling similar to the final moments of Blackadder. This is a piece of cinema with the rare ability to be able to go from pure side-splitting joy to straight seriousness in a split second.

As the narrative develops and the relationship between the central two figures grows the balance between drama and comedy, upset and uplift is always masterfully kept. At one point it’s almost impossible to wipe the huge grin off your face while doing the same with the stream of tears from laughter, soon turning into ones of emotion. The tonal transitions from scene to scene are effectively handled and manage to have great impact on the viewer. Allowing for a greater connection to be formed with the characters, and therefore with the rather odd and offbeat world that’s created.

The more time Jojo and Elsa spend together the more the imaginary form of Hitler becomes sidelined. While the comedic element still remains, Hitler almost acting like a belligerent child annoyed that their friend, or parent, is talking to someone else, as higher levels of drama are introduced the levels of rage shown begin to rise. Waititi’s performance, much like the screenplay and the film he perfectly understands and directs in such a way, is a layered one that genuinely deserves awards recognition – like many other elements of the film. In fact the rest of the all-star cast; which includes names such as Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant, all give wonderfully hilarious, and at times necessarily emotional and dramatic, performances.

Amongst all of this, and what could very easily be the case, the screenplay never feels one-note when it comes to the comedy. It easily covers a wide range of gags from ridicule, to simple misunderstandings and verbal gags – Johansson’s character when it’s pointed out that she isn’t eating mimes chewing on wine claiming “I’m not hungry, I’m just going to chew on these grapes” – to something as simple as Hitler diving straight out of a window just to leave the scene; something which truly needs to be seen to appreciate and understand the full effect of. All of this complimenting the contrasting drama. Both elements made ever more impactful by the use and clear and precise understanding of the other to create an overall bittersweet Taika Waititi feature. Albeit one like no other. Sticking to his recognisable themes of looking at the world from the perspective of the lonely outsider, something which Jojo Rabbit holds very closely.

There’s something about this particular product that allows Waititi to shine in multiple ways, more so than he has done in the past, while also allowing for everyone else to have their moment. Every element combining to create something genuinely masterful. Consistently laugh out loud hilarious and equally tragic it perfects the right balance to make it all the more delightful. Topped off by an overflowing sense of warmth and charm this is Waititi yet again outdoing himself by creating not only his best film so far, but also by forming what is very possibly the film we need in these often weird and depressing times.

Those going for a scathing satire will likely be disappointed by Jojo Rabbit. What you get is a perfectly balanced warm, sweet, occasionally tragic, and consistently hilarious Taika Waititi gem.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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