Thank the cinematic gods a studio gave Taika Waititi the money to make what is – on paper – a disaster waiting to happen. Yet in his hands, a comedy about a Hitler Youth misfit and his imaginary friend Führer becomes a sharp, warm coming-of-age comedy that tackles the consequences of blind hate.
Waititi may be slightly hampered by his material; Nazis are conventional baddies compared to the colonialist legacies felt in Ragnarok and Wilderpeople, limiting his potential for subversion. Jojo Rabbit may have been better billed as a Nazi-bashing comedy instead of an “anti-hate satire” – fun comes before provocation, and the film relishes making everyone’s favourite movie villains villainous. With one possible exception, the adult Nazis remain repugnant and morally bankrupt to the bloody end. The script extends more sympathy to its preteens, which feels well-judged against the fascist indoctrinations. That said, Jojo’s actions are never excused, even when driven by ordinary childishness rather than white supremacy. Davis convincingly captures his growing moral compass, continuing Waititi’s legacy of the difficult yet sympathetic child protagonist.
The Nazi nonsense is sharply contrasted to the resistance, embodied by Jojo’s mum Rosie (Johansson) and charge Elsa (McKenzie). Here, life shines through – overt and covert rebellion sparkle with joy when the stakes are highest. Watching Jojo’s worldview collide with this bold belief in a better future proves the film’s emotional heart. Through the commitment of its uniformly excellent cast and the wit of its script, this balance of farce and truthfulness miraculously works.
Jojo Rabbit may not bring the bite of Waititi’s finest projects, but its heart is golden. Davis’ small shoulders are more than up to carrying the film’s humour and humanity, and while its thematic focus on love’s inherent radicalism may have played out several times before, its balance of irreverence and sincerity proves moving.
CAST: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johannson
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
WRITER: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Christine Leunens (book, Caging Skies)
SYNOPSIS: A Hitler Youth boy – whose imaginary friend is none other than the Führer himself – finds himself questioning his indoctrination after his mother hides a Jewish teenager in their home.