After directing 2017’s acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok, New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows) has established himself as a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shortly after the release of Ragnarok, he developed his latest feature – an adaptation of Christine Leunens‘ book Caging Skies.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit follows Hitler Youth Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who dreams of being in the personal guard of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi). However, he soon discovers that his mother Rosie (Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl called Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls and begins to question his beliefs of his friend.
Introduced by a Nazi version of Beatlemania, Jojo Rabbit establishes a whimsical tone through offbeat, hilarious moments. As it progresses, audiences see that the film is more about slowly learning of a world without Nazis.
This realisation kicks in around the third act, when a serious tone reflects Jojo’s altered views amid the growing threat of invasion, along with his friendship with Elsa. However, It also causes the direction and screenplay to lose consistency so solemn elements involving anti-Semitism are lost in the comedy. Most of the latter comes from Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf and Waititi himself, whose physicality and comical portrayal of Adolf feeds Jojo’s naivety and imagination.
Played by the charming Davis, Jojo is a young outsider so he is more prone to suggestion. This results in him believing Adolf’s exaggerated opinion of Jews i.e. that they are mythical, evil and manipulative. It is not until he meets Elsa, the only other person in his life that he can relate to, that he realises that he has been misled.
His lack of friends highlights a sweet but underdeveloped plot element in Jojo Rabbit – his friendship with Yorki (Archie Yates). Not only does he symbolise the future Jojo couldn’t have, but he is also a reminder of his childhood and innocence during dark times. In this respect where Johansson makes a small yet significant impact. As the romantic Rosie, she reminisces about her pre-war life while supporting the shy Jojo and Elsa. Her hopes for simpler, peaceful times also provide a subtle emotional anchor to the film. This adds extra layer to this satire, so there is more to Jojo Rabbit than just comedy.
Overall, Jojo Rabbit is uneven at times but ultimately offers sweetness, comedy and an idiotically hilarious Hitler.