Although it has been three days since we turned our back to 2019 and said hello to 2020, I still think that people are still in that hopeful frame of mind about the new year. Therefore, it seemed ideal that a filmmaker as bubbly as Taika Waititi releases Jojo Rabbit, a film that puts a light comedic spin on a piece of dark history. I was gripped from the moment I saw Taika himself playing Hitler, like Chaplin and Brooks before him. Well if people are still looking for a hopeful 2020, Jojo Rabbit isn’t a bad place to start looking.
Despite a fantastic cast, there is one person that audiences are going to instantaneously have a warm heart for, that is Roman Griffin Davis in his first-ever role as the titular Jojo. What a tremendous way to introduce yourself to the world of film. He plays a young boy with a blind fanaticism to Hitler and the Nazi ideology who starts to question his devotion when he discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl in their house. This is one of the best child actor performances I’ve seen recently, the back and forth between Roman and Taika makes it feel he is taking the director’s guidance to heart which shows is his impeccable comedic timing.
Character dynamics are an important piece in Jojo Rabbit’s brilliance. Each character relationship feels well connected, humorous and at times a charm to witness. The scenes between Jojo and Rosie are some of the sweetest in the film. I don’t think I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson play such a tender role before. You can tell early on that she hasn’t gravitated to the Nazi ideology as much as Jojo and her role in the film is to monologue about how kids Jojo’s age should be enjoying the world, not fighting a war. Her shoes are a big motif in this film, and the way Waititi uses them as visual call-backs are amongst the best executed I’ve seen in recent years.
Jojo Rabbit is an immensely stylized film. It’s clear that Taika Waititi wants to play his cards on the table of auteurs and it’s clear from the setting of the film. You would think that a German WW2 town might be bleak, but this is a light-hearted comedy which means plenty of bright vibrant colours. Once the film goes get into the more serious side of WW2, the colours do change but the comedy doesn’t and yet it still works. That’s because we see the film through the eyes of Jojo and the bright colours change to dim on the turn of how strong his devotion to Nazism is.
A nice touch Taika adds to Jojo Rabbit is the inclusion of popular songs sung in German. That is the first thing that grabs you purely on an audio basis and it stays an interesting choice of soundtrack. However, it does throw in a few English-speaking songs and I wish it could have stuck with using songs in German throughout the film.
The only thought I had about the negative connotation to the style is that it’s very similar to a certain Mr. Wes Anderson. From the introductory scenes of Jojo in the Hitler Youth, I immediately started to draw very subtle comparisons to Moonrise Kingdom because of the distinct boy scout costumes Jojo and the other boys wear. I brushed it aside for a moment but then the similarities got more and more obvious from the bright colours as previously mentioned, even to some of Andersons’ trademark camera shots. The original comedy makes the style appear refreshing, but Taika is a skillful director who doesn’t need to borrow from others, he has that potential.
The film boasts some fantastic casting and the one person I was looking forward to seeing in Jojo Rabbit was Stephen Merchant. He plays Captain Deertz, A Gestapo leader who in one scene visits Jojo’s house for an inspection. However, that’s the only scene he features in (apart from a brief appearance in another) and I wish more of his comedic talent could have been utilized better. For one, his character could have had a larger role, possibly as the film’s main antagonist. Although this may be one more step forward to the over clichéd, I have a strange feeling that the over clichéd would have actually benefited the film making it feel more light-hearted which we have already established is the source of its entertainment.
Jojo Rabbit is a vert daring way to start off the new year. Taika Waititi is a very exciting director now and this film answers whether we should stick with him to see what’s next. The film is brilliantly comical with a fantastic sense of timing, especially in Roman Griffin Davis who has a fantastic, bright future in the acting business if he chooses to stick around. Even when the film suddenly stops being comedic, its brilliance isn’t lost because Taika Waititi knows how to control the tone. As we draw closer and closer to this year’s Academy Awards, I can see Jojo Rabbit as a dark horse contender for a variety of nominations.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen Jojo Rabbit? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: 1917