Right from the start, Jojo Rabbit had critics and the audience divided. Premiering at the Toronto film festival it was received with both praise and criticism mainly because of its portrayal of Nazis. Packed with a star-filled cast who all received praise helped it win the People’s Choice award at the festival showing that it might not be everyone’s type of film. The critics didn’t seem to rate it but the film going audience loved it.
Jojo Rabbit is based on the book ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens and the plot follows a lonely German boy named Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler during the Second World War. He is part of the of Hitler’s Youth program and he wants to be the best Nazi he can be. His world is turned upside down when he discovers that his mother Rosie is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Helped by his imaginary friend who just so happens to appear in the form of an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler, Jojo must challenge his own beliefs and everything that he knows.
Director Taika Waititi has a history of making films that combine laugh out loud moments and characters who are able to really connect to the audience. These characters are normally outsiders who find it hard to discover their place in society. This time Waititi has sewn together a film which treads a fine line between being funny and offensive. Jojo Rabbit will not be to everyone’s sense of humour but for many, once you dial in and understand that it never once makes light of the subject matter, that it only really shines a light on how crazy, absurd and downright dangerous Hitler’s ideas and theories were then you will feel comfortable joining in with the laughs.
The cast is star heavy. Scarlett Johannsson as Jojo’s Mother, Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf; the leader of the Hitler’s Youth Camp are both excellent and their comic timing and ability to switch to the more heavy and serious issues help ground the whole picture. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant fill out the rest of the supporting cast and all have moments to shine. The real stars of the film are the younger cast members. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa and Archie Yates as Yorki, Jojo’s best friend. The trio is so welled cast. A special mention does have to go to Taika Waititi himself who is the icing on the cake as the stupid, insane, ridiculous, ludicrous and unicorn eating mad man, the imaginary Hitler. He doesn’t play a real version of Hitler it’s a make believe or as he put it in a recent interview “It would just be too weird to play the actual Hitler, and I don’t think people would enjoy the character as much. Because he was such a fucking cunt, and everyone knows that as well”. This version of Hitler is from a mind of 10-year-old boy who knows little about the world and doesn’t fully understand what is really happening around him.
Jojo Rabbit truly is a one of a kind movie. It is a dark comedy that flip flops back and forth between silliness and misery, joy and terror – but in some very minor moments, it doesn’t all gel. It amazes me that this film got to be made at all especially in a time when too many filmmakers, studios and comedians are treading on eggshells trying not to cause any offence to anyone. Waititi has made the film he wanted, the way he wanted to and for that, this is a special piece of cinema. This doesn’t any way make light of the Holocaust or that terrible part of history if anything it shines a light on it, just in a different way than we are used to.
This is Taika Waititi’s world and lucky for us we all to get live in it. Jojo Rabbit doesn’t flinch, it doesn’t pull back from the film it wants to be. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but getting a film to play with this number of laughs and carry the emotional weight that it does can only be pulled together by a director brimming with confidence. The film itself totally belongs to its two young leads; Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Sure, they have solid help from a stellar supporting cast which elevates the leads, but without them, it wouldn’t play half as well and certainly would fail to deliver on the more sensitive and serious moments which are the film’s real surprises.
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Cast: Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Archie Yates, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant