From Taika Waititi, the now-esteemed comedy director behind modern comedy classics like ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople,’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ comes a beautifully crafted war film with a strangely pleasant sense of humour. As ‘Jojo Rabbit’ really stands-out within the war genre for being one of the first films set during World War II to be an anti-hate satire, telling it’s heart-warming and optimistic story in an amusing yet respectful fashion, soon cementing itself as one of the most noteworthy releases of 2019.
Plot Summary: Nearing the end of the Second World War, a lonely German boy named: ‘Jojo’ aspires to be a Nazi, hoping to one day fight on the frontline. But ‘Jojo’ soon finds his worldview turned upside-down when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend: ‘Adolf Hitler,’ ‘Jojo’ must confront the unexpected guest in his home, and in doing so, confront his blind nationalism…
Partly based on the novel: ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens, the screenplay for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was actually written back in 2011, putting it in-between ‘Boy,’ released in 2010, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ released in 2014, in the chronology of Taika Waititi-penned films. And while ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is certainly one of Waititi’s finest films to-date, it is also one of his most controversial. As whilst I personally feel the film goes about its comedy in a tasteful manner, never undercutting the story’s message and mostly just poking-fun at ridiculous Nazi protocols and beliefs. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ did receive plenty of flack from critics as soon as it was even announced the film would contain any kind of humour, which I find quite unfair on behalf of the film, as it’s clear to me that the humour is crucial in what the story is trying to accomplish.
The young and impressive Roman Griffin Davis leads the cast excellently as ‘Jojo,’ portraying the young boy as simply a regular kid who has a fascination with this ideology the Nazis are fighting for, even though he has little understanding of it nor its horrific consequences. Then there is Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays the opposite side of this, as her character: ‘Elsa’ is a resourceful and intelligent Jewish girl who attempts to open ‘Jojo’s eyes to the real-world, rather than the warped-reality his fellow Nazis have burned into him. Scarlett Johansson is also fantastic in the film as ‘Jojo’s mother: ‘Rosie,’ having the most consistent German accent of the cast by far. But it’s the director himself, Taika Waititi, who takes the short straw portraying the infamous Adolf Hitler, or at least ‘Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of him. As ‘Hitler’ is always presented in a very discriminating way, with Waititi portraying the dictator like a complete tool, only ever having as much information and maturity as ‘Jojo’ does, and occasionally, even less so.
Oppose to many other war films, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ features a very vibrant colour palette, as Waititi actually discovered through much of his research that Germany during World War II was both colourful and fashionable, and was interested in shying away from war films only ever displaying World War II as dark and dreary. So, through this, as well as the fairly creative cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, ‘Jojo’s small town is presented as a seemingly celebratory place with stylishly dressed citizens. Almost as if the town is trying to ignore the impending threat, only semi-aware that the Third Reich is crumbling beneath them.
The film’s original score by Michael Giacchino is another wonderful effort from the composer, as the score features a number of memorable tracks, from ‘Jojo’s Theme’ to ‘A Butterfly’s Wings,’ and ‘Rosie’s Nocturne.’ In many ways, the score for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ almost sounds as if it’s a military march composed by a group of children, which works perfectly considering the film’s story is told through a child’s perspective. Furthermore, the original score also utilises German vocals to more accurately fit with the story’s setting.
Although the supporting cast of Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen are all brilliant within the film, I really do wish their characters were featured more throughout the narrative. As aside from Sam Rockwell’s ‘Captain Klenzendorf,’ who receives a respectable amount of screen-time, many of the story’s side characters are seemingly only in the film for the sake of a couple of humorous scenes, which is unfortunate, as every member of the cast portrays their Nazi characters as hilariously over-the-top as possible.
Altogether, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t only another extraordinary entry into Taika Waititi’s catalogue of comedy flicks. But I’d argue it’s his best project thus far, a daring and charming film that simultaneously explores the horrors of war, yet also the compassion in people. And while the film may not be for everyone, with many reviews clearly indicating how divisive the film is with its implementation of comedy, I feel the film juggles its humour and emotional moments immensely well, with its remarkable original score and bright colour palette only helping the film stand further out from the crowd. Final Rating: 8/10.