Jojo Rabbit review Thomasin McKenzie Roman Griffin

Year: 2019
Director(s): Taika Waititi
Writer(s): Christine Leunens, Taika Waititi
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: PG-13
Color, 108 mins

Synopsis: A young boy in Hitler’s army finds a startling discovery. (Source)

From Boy’s poignant introspection, to What We Do In the Shadows’ gut-splitting faux realism and Thor Ragnarok’s epic irreverence, director Taika Waititi has proven himself a true artist no matter how big his canvas. And yet, his latest is hands down is everything he’s been building up to. JoJo Rabbit, a film in which the Kiwi director literally turns himself into an imaginary, insecure Hitler, couldn’t be more perfect, clever or affecting. Who knew that a movie about the Nazi’s final days could be so cute and cuddly? Waititi has gone all the way with this. His cast is phenomenal, his control of tonal eccentricity second to none, and his takedown of racism is profound and raw. This is Waititi at the peak of his immense powers. 

Close to the end of World War II, 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin) is a Hitler fanatic. He hopes to one day fit in the Fuhrer’s war and hates Jews with a passion. Oh, and Hitler (Taika Waititi) also happens to be his imaginary friend, albeit his version of Hitler is a bit chubby and wears blue contact lenses. After attending a Hitler Youth training camp, Jojo is ridiculed for being unable to kill a rabbit on command. He quickly tries to prove himself, only to be injured and sent home. Once recuperating and trying to come to terms with his perceived failings, he discovers a secret about his mother (Scarlett Johansson) that sends his world spinning.

Honestly, despite the incredible performances that string everything together, the film’s power comes from Waititi’s ability to continually juggle a myriad of disparate tones and ideas. I was constantly shocked at how serious the film was narratively, but at how irreverently silly Waititi had made everything. But this inventive humor never belittles the story’s most devastating moments or aspects. This is a film that first makes us laugh, them cry, then laugh and cry at the same time. In essence, Waititi is having a fun with taking a piss on Adolf’s legacy, wrapping up a warped sobering portrait of Nazi hate, prejudice and blind xenophobia within a sincere, surreal coming of age story. This is Moonrise Kingdom meets Fight Club, but with Waititi’s inextricable blend of heart, tragedy and relentless comedy.

Jojo Rabbit review Scarlett Johansson Sam Rockwell review

With its touching portrait of youth and friendship, co-leads Roman Griffin and Thomasin McKenzie shine like the brightest, blinding light. As the titular Jojo, Griffin treads a tightrope of innocence and blind, misguided prejudice. It’s insane to see how he balances these two extremes, bringing maturity to such a weighty, sincere role. Just as important, McKenzie’s Elsa is profound and infinitely complex. With a tortured character who is in the exact opposite position of Jojo, McKenzie gives Elsa both a fierce stoicism and an understated vulnerability. Every scene she delivers evokes a duality that critiques Jojo’s shifting, naive worldview in unpredictable ways. Together, Griffin and McKenzie are a colliding atom bomb of emotion and honesty. Even if Waitit’s deft direction wasn’t as witty as it is, these two would be worth the watch alone. Just as pivotal, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson and Archie Yates all pull their weight and are not to be taken for granted.

Jojo Rabbit is Taika Waititi uncontested masterpiece. Against all odds, Waititi has transformed trauma, pain and suffering into a cathartic experience full of hope and love. What could’ve easily been is a cheap attempt at cultural triggering is instead a bold vision that showcases art as a weapon. In these times of cultural and global dissonance, Waititi’s film is an embrace of both the good and bad of where we’ve come from and where we are. Above all, though, it’s a challenge to remember the light that’s always stronger than the dark.