Written by Ellen Jacob
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is like Moonrise Kingdom meets The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with all the wit of a Monty Python sketch. Everything about that description suggests that this film shouldn’t work, but under the masterful directorial eye of Waititi, it does. It has earned 6 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Scarlett Johansson, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The story follows ten-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) as he slowly comes to terms with the grim reality of Nazi Germany and World War II. An enthusiastic Hitler Youth, he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in their attic. Jojo relies on his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), for guidance and support throughout these events. While the film walks the tonal line between satirical comedy and emotional drama, it is ultimately a touching coming-of-age story about the loss of childhood innocence and the damaging consequences of bigotry.
The film boasts a pair of impressive performances from its seasoned actors in Johansson and Waititi, plus a stacked supporting cast featuring Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant. However, it is the child actors that steal the show. Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie carry the emotional weight of the film on their young shoulders, and Archie Yates, who plays Jojo’s best friend (second to imaginary Hitler, of course), shines in his scenes as Yorki. The young actors display impressively honed comedic timing and pathos that rivals that of their esteemed co-stars.
[Waititi’s] humour manages to poke fun at the Nazis and the absurdity of bigotry without making light of the situation.
Waititi achieves an excellent tonal balance between drama and comedy. His humour manages to poke fun at the Nazis and the absurdity of bigotry without making light of the situation. His comedic prowess shines throughout the film, in both his acting (as Hitler) and his direction. In one scene, he manages to cram an impressive 31 “Heil Hitler”s into a single minute when the Gestapo inspect Jojo’s house and each person must be greeted individually. While the gag is repeated a couple times, it somehow doesn’t get old, as Waititi manages to constantly refresh the scene with new circumstance.
The film also impresses from a technical standpoint. The soundtrack includes a German version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and the score was composed by the expert composer Michael Giacchino. Cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare Jr. creates an evocative visual style that bolsters both the comedy and tragedy of the film. The editing, especially in the first half, is snappy and refreshing, and garnered the film one of its six Oscar nominations.
With the doomsday clock closer to midnight than ever before and new World War III memes springing up every day on social media, Jojo Rabbit is a timely reminder of the absurdity of bigotry and the futility of war. The film teaches a moral lesson through its children as they grow to accept differences. It is a depiction of the horrors of war that is easier to stomach than a gritty, three hour long war epic à la Saving Private Ryan.
Is Jojo Rabbit a fantastic film? Yes. Is it a timely examination of the ridiculous and pointless nature of discrimination and war? Absolutely. Will it win the Oscar for Best Picture? Probably not. While the Academy loves wartime dramas and war epics (think The King’s Speech, Dunkirk, Schindler’s List… the list goes on), a satirical comedy in which a ten year-old kicks his imaginary friend Hitler out of a window, doesn’t seem quite like their cup of tea. Despite this, Jojo Rabbit is well worth a watch, if only just to see said scene of Hitler being kicked out of a window.
The 92nd Academy Awards will take place this coming Sunday 9th of February.