Film review by Jason Day and Win Hughes of Jojo Rabbit, the World War 2 satire about a German boy who finds a Jewish girl hiding at home. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell.
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It’s the last days of World War II and little Johannes/Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a passionate Nazi about to join the Hitler Youth, is getting a pep talk from his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
Jojo is sent home after accidentally blowing himself up with a grenade and joins his mother (Scarlett Johansson) who’s working for the resistance and is hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.
Despite being scared of Elsa, Jojo is fascinated by her and questions her about Jews to inform a book he is writing – ‘Yoohoo Jews’ – that he thinks will help the war effort, not knowing how dangerous their situation is becoming as liberation approaches.
Review, by @Reelreviewer and @Win_Hughes
You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a ten-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) in Jojo Rabbit (2019).
Out of the mouths of babes for Taika Waititi, who completely changes tack for this WWII kids-led satire, after previously helming Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Using children and/or comedy to explore the madness and hypocrisy of the Nazi regime is not a new thing. In The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin’s portrayal of dictator Adenoid Hinkel, who spouted gibberish at ten to the dozen and danced with a globe of the world, was a balletic send-up of Hitler.
It was just one of umpteen comic skits on the war during the 1940’s, when the world needed something to laugh at, silliness that Mel Brooks would take to an art-form with The Producers (1968).
In the modern era, Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (1997) starred himself as a Jewish clown who treats incarceration in a concentration camp as a fantastical joke so his son isn’t traumatised by the experience.
Jojo Rabbit works as a satire because Waititi opts – wisely – to sidestep big, easy laughs and lets the ridiculousness inherent in antisemitism and Hitler’s public persona speak for themselves. The film has you giggling but thinking that bit more and there are some very moving ‘shock and awe’ moments worked in as well.
Waititi opens the movie to archive newsreels of Hitler ‘Sieg Heling’ to adoring, mass crowds who scream ecstatically, like boy band fans. Appropriately, the music playing here Komm, gib mir deine Hand, The Beatles’ German version, sung by themselves, of I wanna Hold Your Hand.
The film sticks with this deutsche-pop theme and later Germanicised hits include songs by David Bowie and – for the trailer – The Monkees.
Waititi is a veritable one-man band, serving as director, writer, co-producer as well as handling a sizable supporting role as an imagined Hitler who starts as a jovial, genial sidekick for Jojo but becomes progressively nastier, louder and bullying as Jojo increasingly realises he might have it wrong about Jews and the whole Nazi thing.
It’s a fun performance and likewise in the swing of it are the seriously sensual and impressive Johannsen (coming on for a career best), Sam Rockwell’s Hitler Youth leader and Rebel Wilson’s useless Nazi mädchen.
My good pal Win Hughes complements this by adding:
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. The trailer promised slapstick but this filmmaker usually promises a lot more and he delivered.
There are laughs, but also serious points are made – there are some real emotional sucker punches among the jokes and pratfalls.
And perhaps that’s the real point; war is humanity at its worst, with moments of farce. This is a brilliant movie that I would recommend to everyone.
Cast & credits
Director: Taika Waititi. 1hr 48 min/108min. TSG Entertainment/Piki Films/Defender Films/Czech Anglo Productions. (12a).
Producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley.
Writer: Taika Waititi.
Camera: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Music: Michael Giacchino.
Sets: Ra Vincent.
Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant.