Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson
At first glance, “Jojo Rabbit” looks like a supremely, over the top, hilarious romp through one of history’s darkest times and societies with only a light spattering of sincere thematic story-telling.
In the end though, Taika Waititi’s latest comedic romp may not have as many laughs as expected but it more than makes up for it with its quirky tone, genuine charm and a wholesome coming of age film that will warm even the coldest of hearts.
(I wasn’t ready…)
It’s a testament to Waititi’s nuanced directorial finesse that he is able to walk such a fine line between the truly terrible and, unfortunately, all too real circumstances of the time while creating a genuinely great and often humorous coming of age film for audiences of kind can enjoy.
“Jojo Rabbit” takes place toward the tail end of World War II where a young German boy named Jojo, in hopes of earning the praise of his Fuhrer, who takes the form of an imaginary friend, joins a Hitler Youth camp to make a name for himself. He wants to fit in with belligerent, Jew-hating older members of the camp but finds he just doesn’t have what it takes. After a freak accident he finds himself even more ostracized from his peers but when he discovers an older Jewish girl hiding upstairs in his home Jojo see’s an opportunity to prove himself to Hitler.
One of the most common retorts I hear and read these days on “cancel culture” is that a film like “Blazing Saddles” could never be made today.
Conservatives, centrists, and bull shit reactionaries like to drone on and on about the offensive language displayed in the film being too much for today’s hypersensitive “woke” crowd and say these folks would dissolve into mush if they heard such words muttered across the screen today.
Never mind it is a popular movie among people of this ilk and never mind the fact that interpreting the Mel Brooks classic as just a western with some offensive language is a fundamental and gross misreading of the film.
(Mel Brooks is laughing at you, not with you, assholes…)
You see, Brooks never tried to make the N-word about the black people in the film but more about how it’s used against black folk instead and how white people will consistently go against their best interests if it means the “right people” get hurt. You see, Brooks was always about punching up when it came to comedy, lampooning those in power for the little guys such as Jews like himself or as “Blazing Saddles” did for African Americans.
For all the praise douchebag, anti-“PC” folks give Brooks for making that film the director himself is on record as stating that there are lines even he would never cross because comedy can be a force for good and if misinterpreted or intentionally written with malice it can be used for bad.
(Hmmm I wonder who this reminds me of…)
So in comes Taika Waititi to show reactionaries once again that these films are 100 percent relevant to the world we live in today because it’s not about “offensive words,” it’s about context and whether your humor punches up or punches down and “Jojo” definitely does the former.
“Jojo Rabbit” doesn’t want us to just laugh at Hitler saying silly things like giving life advice to a little boy about killing Jews, blaming Winston Churchhill for his problems, or offering cigarettes to Jojo every minute. The film wants us to really confront how impressionable young children are often warped by the hate society has around them and how adults create this environment to foster this resentment of those who are different.
(The closest we’ll ever get to “Springtime for Hitler” though)
The film paints a brilliant picture of how hatred can grow into disillusionment among many of the film’s characters particularly Sam Rockwell’s who turns in a brilliantly understated performance as a grizzled German army officer who has decided he’s seen enough from this war and no fucks left to give. Scarlett Johansson’s puts in an equally powerful performance as Jojo’s mother who is just trying to do her small part to make the world a better place in the bitter landscape of Germany’s hate-filled society. Both of them pair brilliantly alongside Roman Griffin Davis’s Jojo who, for such a young actor, is equally impressive powering the light yet somber soul of the film.
(Sam Rockwell clearly enjoyed playing a Nazi as much as Taika did apparently.)
Of course, Taika Waititi is great as the aforementioned imaginary Hitler playing a child-like caricature of the monster in the best way a film like this can do. Between him and Davis the two create a joyous duo that powers the film’s poignant message, deconstructing hate and learning in the end to choose love.
The film stylistically bares a lot of resemblance to Wes Anderson films with its use of European music and pop tracks and pastel color palette for its cinematography and fans will likely be most reminded of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” while watching this film. Its message is often very similar lampooning hate-filled fanaticism while giving plenty of time for more touching moments for its lead characters. If you enjoyed those films you are likely to enjoy the stylistic and narrative choices of this one.
If there was one critique, I might have of the film is that it perhaps over simplifies hate. People often think that short of Klan hoods, slavery and gas chambers hatred really has one face and its only overt. The film seems to paint a picture of a world that believes this is so, maybe not entirely, but yet still see’s this kind of hatred in the simplest of terms. Yes, the movie is told mostly through the eyes of a young boy but if the last three years is any indication hatred is a lot more nefarious and complicated than over the top caricatures of evil.
(Pictured: An over the top caricature of evil)
But this isn’t enough to truly take away from the film’s majesty which in its epic climax will lmove most to the tears. It’s a harrowing journey from learned hatred to loving acceptance of the other and the film, given its premise, is rather brilliant because of it. By the film’s climax it’ll be hard not to be moved by Jojo’s transformation and the triumph of humanity and its absolutely worth seeing.
“Jojo Rabbit” is the rare kind of film that perfectly balances a dark theme with often youthful charm and sincerity and the result might be one of the best feel good films of the last few years.
The world is a pretty shitty place and society often teaches us to hate without reproach but if we can learn to be more self-aware of how we are being manipulated and learn to love the “other” maybe we can all eventually arrive in a society we all want to live in.
5 out of 5
Take a bow, Taika.