Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant and Scarlett Johansson
It’s the latter part of WWII and the Germans are well on their way to losing. Most seasoned soldiers know this, but Adolf Hitler’s propaganda machine is still in full swing and the young children that remain in the villages and towns are blindly loyal to their leader.
10-year-old loner Jojo (Davis) attends his first Hitler Youth camp to “make a man of him” and prepare him for life once victory is theirs. We follow events through his innocent, yet corrupted eyes. Such is his devotion to Germany’s cause and the absence of a father figure in his life, he creates an imaginary friend who just so happens to be his interpretation of the Führer (Waititi) himself. Part playmate and part counsellor, together the pair navigate Jojo’s eventful introduction to life as a soldier with explosive consequences.
Jojo’s journey is complicated further when he discovers his mother (Johansson) is hiding a teenage Jewish girl (McKenzie) in their house. Struggling with his deep-rooted beliefs, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship in what could be described as the most unconventional love story of recent times.
Any film that uses Hitler and his despicable history for jokes and laughs is bound to cause controversy, but it can also highlight the many injustices that were faced by millions of people (as some still are today) provided the punchline’s right. As a director and writer, Taika Waititi has created a darkly comic, satirical and yet occasionally tender and often poignant movie. As an actor, being imaginary, he has license to exaggerate his performance and he does so with relish. There’s comedic nonsense and horseplay happening, but as time moves on this disappears to be replaced by more sinister behaviour as Jojo’s idealistic world begins to fade.
Davis, acting beyond his years, brings naivety with a fierce desire to prove himself and is at his best when trying to come to terms with the changing circumstances around him. His emotional journey is a complex one and his performance is mesmerising. As Elsa, McKenzie, shows a steely determination to survive playing up to Jojo’s preconceived prejudices and cleverly challenging his beliefs to highlight the ridiculousness of his Nazi ideology. There’s an underlying tension to their many conversations, these being the film’s highlight.
As funny as it is, there are also some incredibly dramatic moments. A Gestapo raid brings almost unbearable tension whilst one moment in particular is heart-breaking and shocking. Every now and then an accent slips, Rebel Wilson’s presence as an oddball Nazi instructor doesn’t quite work and Alfie Allen camps it up for no real reason, but at its heart, Jojo Rabbit is a unique exploration of hate, love and friendship.
Jojo Rabbit is in cinemas now.
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Film reviewer for Time and Leisure Magazine, The Movie Waffler and We Are Cult.
Former actor (a regular in The Bill) and voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.