Review by Luke Bradley
If trailers hadn’t given the game away, Jojo Rabbit’s opening sequence, accompanied by a German dub of The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, would wisely sets the tone for the film ahead. Taiki Waititi, the mastermind behind Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, has made a film about a Hitler Youth recruit and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler himself. And yes, it’s as fantastic as everyone had imagined.
Expertly toeing the line between dark comedy and coming-of-age drama, Jojo Rabbit really is a product of its stellar talent. Waititi triumphs in his triple-threat position, having directed the film, penned the screenplay adaptation of the book it’s based on, Caging Skies, and stepped into the intimidating boots of one of the most infamous figures in history. Only he could pull off such a performance, delighting the audience with his natural comedic talent whilst ensuring they never lose sight of the monstrous nature of his role. The interplay between him and Jojo never ceases to entertain, and this dynamic is occasionally complemented with moments of dictatorial rage that further add to the shock-laughter moments of the film.
Watiti makes the bold decision of sticking with Jojo’s perspective throughout almost the entire runtime, and thankfully it pays off in spades. Roman Griffin Davis’ performance is truly fantastic and anchors the film where a one-note child actor would have faltered. Davis’ bubbling fanboy mannerisms combined with his shy, sheepish demeanour won me over in minutes. Despite knowing the grave errors of his ideals, Jojo’s unadulterated fanaticism with the Nazi Party always comes across as innocent in nature, and the film’s humour thrives when supporting characters point out the flaws in this ideology in deadpan fashion.
The film’s embarrassment of riches goes on. Scarlett Johannson is fantastic as Jojo’s mother. Their bond is never less than genuine and heartwarming, grounding the narrative between the film’s more bonkers moments. Thomasin McKenzie is fantastic as the irreverent Elsa, who channels Waititi’s best writing during her playful jabs at flawed conceptions about the Jewish. Performances by Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant (although short and inconsequential in nature) further add joy to the proceedings.
Despite knowing the grave errors of his ideals, Jojo’s unadulterated fanaticism with the Nazi Party always comes across as innocent in nature, and the film’s humour thrives when supporting characters point out the flaws in this ideology in deadpan fashion.
Surprisingly, Jojo Rabbit manages to expertly delve into the deeply tragic reality of its setting sparingly but with profound impact. Whilst the film revels in its lighter moments, it all too suddenly floors you with the realities of the war and the Holocaust. This head-on address of the dark subject matter that shrouds the film was impressive, especially considering it did so without ever betraying its tone. In keeping with its decision to stick with Jojo throughout, the horrors of wartime Germany are shown through the lens of a child protagonist. This adds a unique take to the film’s serious moments, and further demonstrates the charms of its young lead.
Never would I have thought that a film about the Nazi regime could be in such equal amounts hilarious and poignant, but Waititi has delivered in spades. With a superb cast on top form and fantastic writing to boot, the film effortlessly delivers everything it sets out to achieve. Riotously funny and disarmingly honest, Jojo Rabbit is one of those films that reminds you of the joys of cinema, and is easily one of the year’s best.
Jojo Rabbit opens in Irish cinemas on January 3rd.