Jojo Rabbit is the latest film from Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi. Fresh off the huge success of the brilliant Thor: Ragnarok – a film in which he managed to insert his vision and hilarious sensibilities into one of Marvel’s typically behemoth productions – it feels like he has been given carte blanche to do what he wants. Make a film wear he plays an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler? Of course!
It follows a young member of the Hitler Youth and all-round fuhrer fanatic as he deals with the revelation that a young Jewish girl is being hidden in his house, putting everything he’s so adamantly believed in into question.
Jack says: Comedies around the Nazis and WWII are a tricky prospect, it was perhaps the darkest period of humanity’s history after all. But Waititi brings the offbeat comedy that worked so well in his previous films and it feels oddly at home here. It works mainly because he plays up the absurdity of the time – and it was an absurd time. He makes it clear pretty much straight away that the people who have fallen for these insane lies are idiots. They’re bumbling commandants and the bizarre gestapo. It feels like a uproarious comparison to the utter insanity we’re seeing in the world today, the rise of fascism and whatever is going on in America. For me, the wackiness of Waititi fits in perfectly.
But the talent of Waititi – which has been true since 2010’s ‘Boy’ – is that he knows when to stop messing around. And ‘Jojo Rabbit’ hits surprisingly hard in a number of crucial scenes and it’s a testament to the talented young cast that they can make that flip so effortlessly. Roman Griffin Davis is impossible not to love, even as he’s spouting off his insane antisemitic theories on the Jewish race. Thomasin McKenzie, who was so great in ‘Leave No Trace’, is also wonderful as the girl on the run. But Sam Rockwell once again proves himself to be the best part of anything he’s involved in, as the Captain questioning the Reich, who ultimately has the most powerful scene.
Some people have commented that it glosses over some of the most horrible aspects of the time. To that I’d say that it’s from a child’s point of view; they often don’t know what’s happening, even the adults were victims of propaganda. At best they have a child’s understanding of the situation – a line about concentration camps as place that Jewish prisoners go to, but do not return from, is a prime example.
It’s the film we need right now; a warning about the rise of nationalism and blind patriotism. But it’s also very, very funny.
Becca says: I have heard a lot of criticism that this film paints the events of World War Two in too light a brushstroke, but to that I say phooey. The lead character is a child. It is being told from a child’s perspective. Important details of the war are left out or skimmed over, but if it is not prominent/important to the child, it shouldn’t be prominent/important to the film.
Roman Griffin Davis is astounding as Johannes – Taika Waititi’s team has a knack for getting amazing child actors it seems (we love you Julian Dennison) – and Scarlett Johansson (I swear I have seen her everywhere lately, either Jack has been choosing films with her in, or she is, indeed, just /everywhere/) is great, too. Thomasin McKenzie was also fun as Elsa (let it go, let it goooo – ooh, wrong movie). I am glad they made the Jewish character tough and hardy, as well as giving her tender moments. It would have been too easy to just show a character in fear of the terrible events going on around her.
I suppose I should also mention Taika Waititi himself, who appears as Adolf Hitler. Judging from the trailers, this movie was going to be all about the little boy and his Adolf best friend, but in fact Waititi’s character definitely took a back seat. He was used as a mechanic to put across subtext here and there, but for the most part he was for comedic effect. However, while this movie was not what I expected, it did give me tonnes in return. Saying that, I think this will come comfortably second to Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
P.S. Lots of love for Stephen Merchant
Tom says: Hunt For The Wilderpeople is easily one of my favourite films of all time (I even recently declared it the best film of the decade) and Waititi followed that up with possibly the best Marvel movie ever in Thor: Ragnorok. So what ever he turned his hand to next was guaranteed to be fantastic. And he doesn’t disappoint with his Nazi dramedy-satire, Jojo Rabbit.
Waititi himself plays Hitler in the film, as imagined by the fanatical Hitler Youth protagonist Jojo, played wonderfully by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, so you know straight away the tone the film is going to take. This will polarise some people, but those offended by the portrayal of the low tier bumbling Nazis, who are more stupid than evil, have taken the film too much at face value. Robbie Colin of The Telegraph complained the film glosses over the holocaust but he missed the point that the film was from the perspective of the naive kids. Not to mention the Nazi propaganda machine was in full flow, hiding the true nature of the camps from the people. And without spoiling too much, the film definitely addresses the horrors of war when Jojo’s whole world comes crashing down around him.
The performances are all brilliant across the board, especially from the young cast (Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie). Both shine in the comedy bits and in the heavier emotional beats too. Both are definitely ones to watch. Sam Rockwell as the possibly gay but definitely stupid Nazi commander is great too, although I feel it’s his Nazi-with-a-heart-of-gold where a lot of people’s issues lie but I thought he was fantastic. The bottomline is this though; the film might sympathise with some of the villains but it never for one moment does anything other than completely condemn war and the rise of fascism. It’s a hilarious and heartbreaking film with a very timely message about the dangers of not only fascism but of any extremist ideology. Just with New Zealand man playing Hitler.