Fantastic Fest 2019: Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi. It’s a name to conjure with in the world of film these days. His output over the last few years is quite something; What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Thor: Ragnarok are all pretty terrific. It’s not always easy to churn out three great films in a row, especially when they all are very different from one another. Surely Waititi cannot keep that streak going by making yet another quality film with his latest, Jojo Rabbit, can he? Oh, he can and he does.
Based on the 2004 book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit is a pitch black satire about a loner German kid named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) trying to navigate through life in the waning months leading up to the end of World War II. He loves his mum, Rosie (Scarlett Johannson), but he loves his country even more. He whole-heartedly believes in Hitler’s cause. Jojo joins the Hitler Youth but is quickly disillusioned after a mishap with an explosive. He doesn’t stop loving Nazi Germany and all it stands for though, nope. He continues trying to help the war effort however he can all the while not realizing his mum is part of the resistance and is hiding a young Jewish woman in their attic. Jojo is faced with a lot of harsh realities in the movie and he does his best trying to tackle them all while consulting with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.
Roman Griffin Davis is wonderful as Jojo. This is his first film but you’d never guess it. His character is put through the wringer both emotionally and physically, a feat that not a lot of veteran kid actors could pull off. Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa is really something special. Almost all of Elsa’s scenes are with Jojo and the two are great together. Waititi plays the imaginary Adolf Hitler and relishing making fun of Hitler and his ideology. As good as everyone else is in the film, the stand out performance for me was Sam Rockwell. His Captain Klenzendorf, who runs a Hitler Youth camp, is straight up amazing. If this move elicits any Oscar talk, it’ll be for Rockwell. Johannson didn’t seem like she was given a whole lot to do except come and go in scenes and was basically just a plot point so it’s difficult to judge her performance apart from saying “she was okay”.
After watching the trailer for Jojo Rabbit a few times, there was a feeling this film could not work and might be straight up awful. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and the movie is mostly a pure delight. The comedy in this movie could be none more black. Don’t let that trailer fool you, it’s not all belly laughs. There are a couple of gut punches there to be felt. Waititi manages to pair slapstick hilarity with deeply emotional events and it works. The issues Jojo Rabbit confronts are the same issues the world is dealing with now in terms of hatred towards the “other”. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down for a couple of hours and laughing at the ridiculousness of the Nazis in this movie. Of course, the same issues will be there when the movie is over but for those 120 minutes, you get to laugh at one of history’s most vile people, and that feels really, really good.