Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi (script), Christine Leunens (novel)
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Taika Waititi, Archie Yates
Producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley
Music: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Editor: Tom Eagles
Running time: 108mins
What’s the story: Hitler Youth Jojo (Davis) is committed to the Nazi cause, but the discovery of a Jewish girl (McKenzie) being hidden in his house forces him to reconsider his beliefs.
What’s the verdict: Easy to understand why some have approached Taika Waititi’s latest with trepidation. Happy Holocaust movies Life is Beautiful and Jakob the Liar linger long in the mind as examples of good intentions, bad films.
Less easy to comprehend is the critical backlash this “anti-hate satire” has received from some quarters. A triumph of balance between light and darkness, Jojo Rabbit earns its laughs skewering Nazi fervour (and nationalism generally) but sustains an omnipresent menace of something terrible knocking at the door.
In an age of rising anti-Semitism and immigrant persecution, a film that gets belly laughs from roasting fanaticism and is a paean to decency, love and hope should be applauded. Particularly when it’s this well-crafted.
An adventure story centered on the debuting Davis’ 10-year-old Jojo; it follows the lad through the final year of World War 2. A dyed-in-the-wool Hitler Youth, Jojo believes the stories of Total Victory, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. But, imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi) and other not so imaginary adults all seem similarly convinced.
When injured at training camp, Jojo is relegated to posting propaganda signs in his hometown, while best friend Yorki (Yates) trains to fight and enthuses about his paper uniform (war shortages, you see). Joining Jojo is Sam Rockwell’s weary Captain Klenzendorf, demoted after the lad’s injury, and Rebel Wilson’s comically fanatical Fraulein Rahm.
Someone not sharing Jojo’s belief of victory is his mum, Rose (Johansson), trying to keep her son from being totally corrupted by Nazi ideology. Matters are complicated further when Jojo discovers Rose is harbouring the Jewish Elsa (Leave No Trace’s McKenzie). His head filled with Fraulein Rahm’s tales of Jewish supernatural powers, Jojo also knows if Elsa is discovered his mum will be taken away…
Opening with The Beatles’ German version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” over shots of Hitler speeches, Jojo Rabbit brims with anachronisms. “OM Gott,” declares Fraulein Rahm at one point, imaginary Hitler brims with slang, tweaked versions of modern songs fill the soundtrack. Alongside getting decent chuckles, Waititi’s point seems to be 1945 is not ancient history… and history does have an annoying habit of repeating itself.
Jojo and Elsa’s arguments over bonkers anti-Semitic ghost stories should be played in schools (and the White House) so young and/or impressionable minds can get educated in an easy to understand fashion.
Although making a family film, Waititi, working from source novel Caging Skies, does not shy away from harsh realities. Be it public displays of those who oppose the Reich, a visit from Stephen Merchant’s Gestapo agent that starts comic before turning menacing, or a moment beautifully underplayed but totally heartbreaking.
Expertly played by a cast who all match the movie’s tone, it will be difficult come award time to single out who should be nominated. If only the Oscars had Best Ensemble.
Ignore those reviews saying you can’t laugh at Nazis, and enjoy one of the smartest, funniest films of the year, with a message everyone should hear.