An endearing, funny—and a little simplistic—WWII anti-hate satire that will resonate with contemporary audiences.
IMDB Synopsis: A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Jojo Rabbit, the latest film from heralded director Taika Waititi doesn’t hide what it is: An anti-hate satire. Featuring eccentric comedy, biting commentary, and a wonderful performances, Jojo is sure to be a hit with audiences. Set among the backdrop of World War II Germany, it’s easy to buy what Waititi is selling (that love is greater than hate; live life to the fullest, etc.). But Jojo Rabbit doesn’t stick the landing completely, getting lost in what it is trying to say when pivoting from its irreverent comedy to the sorrow and grief of living during wartime.
The film centers on 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a Nazi fanatic whose imaginary friend is a garish caricature of Hitler (Taika Waititi). He lives alone with his doting mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who secretly works as an anti-war operator. Jojo’s fervent dedication to the fatherland and hatred of the Jewish, is played for laughs. At his core, he’s just a confused young boy whose lack of father figure is replaced by the indoctrination of an evil empire. And it takes a relationship with a young jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house for his compassionate side to emerge. The comparisons levied at the Jewish race in the movie are disgusting (unfortunately, historically accurate), and young Jojo must discover over the course of the film through his awkward and tense conversations with Elsa, that maybe, just maybe, the real monsters are the people he’s idolized all his young life.
Even despite historically knowing which side to root for, Waititi makes it a little too easy to root against the Nazis. In Jojo Rabbit, all of the Nazi characters are portrayed not as a ruthless, efficient war machine (as history has shown), but as childish parodies: the flamboyant Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his loyal sidekick Finkel (Alfie Allen), the overly creepy Deertz (Stephen Merchant), and the blindly obedient Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). It works well when the comedy is flowing and the laughs are easy, but when the film takes a turn for the serious, it’s hard to equate these thin sketches of fascists with their historical-equivalents who committed heinous atrocities during WWII. The film certainly falls a little flat in this regard, despite having its heart in the right place.
The most effective parts of the film are the one-on-ones with Jojo and Elsa, as we watch a young boy’s prejudice change before our eyes. Jojo learns to see through the propaganda he’s so blindly believed in while Elsa manages to have a little faith in humanity and trust again. We all know how WWII ended, the world has the benefit of knowing that good triumphed over evil. The message that the world will be ok if we just love one another might be a little too simplistic and naive, but told on a personal level through the prism of childhood, it’s no less meaningful.
Highlights: Scarlett Johansson puts on a brave face as a single mother doing her best in a dinner scene. The tension riddled scene as the Gestapo searches Jojo’s house is equal parts ridiculous and fraught. Most of Waititi‘s bits as imaginary Hitler work to the crowd’s delight, as well.
MVP: Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa logs and incredible performance that’s all at once scared, defiant, heart wrenching and brave.
Should you see it: Despite lobbing in a softball, the message is no less meaningful in today’s day and age. 7/10.
Director: Taika Waititi
Studio: Fox Searchlight // Original release date: October 18, 2019