“JOJO RABBIT” based on the novel by Christine Leunens is a film that will have audiences divided simply because of its subject-matter. This is a World War II satire that centers on a young boy named Jojo. He’s a bit lonely living with his single mother. But he has an imaginary friend to keep him company, Adolph Hitler. The war is raging on and the Nazi regime is all this child has known. That is going to change when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home. Something that will challenge the concepts of the nationalism he’s been taught since birth. It will also complicate the bond he has with his best-friend, the vision of Adolph Hitler that he’s created in his mind.
This one is written and directed by Taika Waititi who also stars alongside young Roman Griffin Davis, and Thomasin McKenzie. With supporting roles filled by Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Sam Rockwell who all seem like the perfect fit for this genre of film. Satirical humor is not easy to pull off in my opinion. It requires a cleverness, and a thorough knowledge of the subject that is focus of the satire. The tone of the humor is naturally going to be on the dumber side in terms of its delivery. But there certainly needs to be a level of intelligence behind it to truly pull of effective laughs. All of which Taika Waititi manages to provide in this script that is a perfect blend of sense-of-humor and coming-of-age drama.
There is a wittiness to the comedic substance that was naturally appealing, and it never felt stale through the progression. It’s balanced with nicely timed dramatic undertones that make it emotionally engaging to see as this young boy experiences a great deal of self-discovery and an overall enlightenment on life. The childlike cluelessness of the character complements the satire in the humor perfectly in my opinion to make this movie work. Despite being a kid, the lessons he learns in this movie can still be applied to people of all ages in our society today. And without a heavy-handed delivery, the film has an uplifting message under all the attempts at humor that does shine through.
Roman Griffin Davis plays young Jojo and in this first performance of his, he knocks it out of the park with a layered portrayal. We open on his normal life living in Nazi Germany and the humor kicks in immediately through his blind loyalism to the Nazi party. He’s a proud kid who has basically been brainwashed into thinking all these illogical stereotypes of Jewish people. Something that does capture that childlike passing of urban legends which often have no validity, and at times defy human logic. There’s a charm to this kid that creates an innocence that does make him naturally endearing, despite his beliefs.
It isn’t long before Taika Waititi enters the picture as Hitler and it’s instantly amusing as he creates a bold, cartoonish embodiment of the country’s infamous leader. Waititi is vibrantly animated with his gestures, and through the whimsical delivery of his dialogue. I felt this made him come across like a realistic persona a kid would imagine. So, the representation of Hitler in this one works, as do the rest characters and it results in crisp satirical humor that lands because of the timing in the writing, the knowledge of the source history, and without question from the performances.
The chemistry between Davis and Waititi was very natural with a charm that sells their childlike friendship. Each one takes verbal jabs at one another, it provides many comical moments as well as a few dramatic ones, that were all this story needed. However, there was a constant layering of meaning present that makes this a thought-provoking movie. Through the comedic dialogue of Waititi as Hitler, the script was able to capture the constant conforming of people from birth during the era. Even in the form of wise tales to lure kids in if needed. Anything to mold a system of belief and conformity. One this movie proceeds to breakdown with a sincere message of anti-hate and societal growth.
Thomasin McKenzie was able to command the screen in a very unassuming way. She had a great chemistry with Davis as well that captured the layering of their friendship. This was the crucial aspect of the film that needed to work to sell the plot. From the uneasiness between them early on, and throughout the film as they learn from one another, the bond between these two characters was perfectly captured by the performances of Davis and McKenzie. And Johansson, Rockwell, Wilson, and Merchant all provide a ton of life to their smaller roles as well to each leave an impression.
Visually this was a very stylized movie but in a very subtle way that worked nicely for the story and the time-period. The color palette is slightly washed out. The framing of the shots gives off a storyboard vibe that makes the narrative feel like it’s taking you to another time and place. With characters and settings that are real, but at the same showcase varying levels of embellishment. Which is a positive for a comedic satire in my opinion. There’s also a strong Wes Anderson feel to it that I thought worked in creating a dated atmosphere to complement the WWII backdrop. The musical score and how the camera moved with the flow of the music created a subtle elegance. One that I thought added a great artistic appeal to the visual styling. And with all these elements blended together, the result was a success.
The drawbacks would be minor but under the theme of the satire was a predictable coming-of-age tale. It’s heightened by great performances yet knowing where the story is going to go does make the run-time feel 10-15 minutes too long. But overall, I recommend checking this one out. It’s humorous and heartwarming and while the story moving everything forward is familiar, more than enough unique elements are layered over it to incorporate a collection of meanings and interpretations for the viewer to invest in.