A Nazi comedy about a 10-year-old boy and his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — is quite the outrageous elevator pitch. What could possibly go wrong? But Taika Waititi’s ‘Jojo Rabbit’, once you get over its central conceit, is really just an impossibly sweet story about an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a girl; it just so happens that one of them is a young Nazi in the making and the other is a Jew in hiding.
Waititi, who calls himself a Polynesian Jew, apart from directing, also stars in the film as the aforementioned imaginary Hitler — a goofy, caricatured version of him that you’d get if you mixed three parts mean girl and one part puppy.
In fact, apart from the moustache and the uniform, Waititi’s Hitler shares little DNA with the genocidal German tyrant.
How you will react to this particular version of the Fuhrer is up to personal choice. It is impossible to view ‘Jojo Rabbit’ outside of the political climate we find ourselves in, and it was so obviously Waititi’s intention to challenge the viewer to rise to the occasion. But if you find yourself incensed or, conversely, amused, know that it really doesn’t matter all that much. Because Jojo Rabbit is not very interested in seriously exploring the very questions it throws up.
However, in its individual, separate pieces, the film works beautifully. The moment Jojo Rabbit takes a step back from goofing around and lets its central characters — Roman Griffin Davis as the titular Jojo and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa — meet, magic unfolds.
Jojo lives with his eccentric and larger-than-life mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and he’s dealing with having been sent back from Hitler youth summer camp after an accident that leaves him with a limp and scar on his face. Home alone one afternoon, he discovers his mum’s been harbouring a young Jewish girl in their home, hidden away in a crawl space behind the walls. The two make a truce and keep their meeting a secret and their daily meetings bloom into an unusual alliance. And while Elsa’s Jewishness exists only as a teachable moment for Jojo, their relationship is a thing of pure joy. From Elsa, Jojo learns to peel back his second-hand bigotry and lofty ideals of nationalism. From Elsa, Jojo learns to let go of hate.
‘Jojo Rabbit’ shines in the moments that it talks about freedom, love and dance. It is so clearly in love with life that you can’t help but feel lifted and light, and you forget the film’s flimsy plot. Johansson especially embodies this spirit of the movie. Between Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, Johansson has truly showcased her acting chops and range this awards season,
Rounding out the cast is Archie Yates as Jojo’s pudgy best friend, Yorki; Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, Jojo’s Nazi training leader; Rebel Wilson as Fraulein Rahm, a trainer at the youth camp; and Alfie Allen as Finkel, the second-in-command to Captain Klenzendorf; and they all feel like well-realised and lived-in characters.
However, one of the truly disappointing features of the movie is a lack of direction on Waititi’s part. The spark of originality that placed his films such as ‘Boy’, ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ a cut above the rest is clearly missing here.
Sadly, Jojo Rabbit feels like a cheaper copy of Wes Anderson’s utterly lovely hipster comedy, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, which again featured an outstanding performance by its young cast.
But if you’re looking to watch a sweet movie and laugh (and cry just a teensy bit), Jojo Rabbit has a lot to offer. Just don’t go burrowing for deeper meaning.
Don’t miss it!
‘Jojo Rabbit’ is now showing in the UAE.