Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.
Where does one start? Taika Waititi is back with his highly controversial Hitler movie. A lot of the disgruntled comments that the film has been received prior to its release come from the jovial and fun portrayal of Adolf Hitler by Waititi himself in the trailers. So it's probably best to mention right up front that in this satire, Waititi's Hitler is not an attempt to humanize the man that brought on the deaths of millions of Jewish people. Waititi's Hitler is Jojo's imaginary friend. He is but a means of visually describing Jojo's personal image of Hitler, thanks to years of indoctrination and propaganda by the Nazi party. Anyway, Hitler is not a large part of the film; only popping up once in a while.
It does not take long to realise that this is not an Iron Sky level comedy. It's not here to provide controversial laugh after laugh. Jojo Rabbit is a dark drama that is lightened by elements of comedy. It could be considered the Blazing Saddles of the millennial generation, with its seemingly exaggerated tone around the Nazi fascists, to serve as a reminder that while they are incorporating humour into this racist belief structure, at no point are they condoning it. What makes this film work so well, is the mature plot. This isn't just a bunch of physical gags like the trailer may have led you to believe. The story is based on a novel by Christine Leunens called Caging Skies (which has also been adapted into a theatrical stage play), and it ensures that there is a moving character-driven story behind the laughs. Waititi's screenplay does create a bit of an inconsistent tone in the first act while the characters are being set up, and while the dramatic portion may turn off some members of the audience, it gives Jojo Rabbit much stronger staying power as a film.
Because this story is not about Hitler. This story is about Jojo, a boy who has believed every piece of propaganda that his government and schools have given him about Hitler and the Nazi party. The film looks at how that worldview is challenged by his interactions with a Jew hiding in his house. The concepts of acceptance and tolerance are at the forefront, and young Roman Griffin Davis does a stellar job showing the inner conflict that Jojo is feeling. Thomasin McKenzie, on the other hand (the Jew in question), has a surprising performance, oozing an unexpected level of confidence despite her situation. Her interactions with Davis form the foundation of the film, and the duo is able to convincingly show off their two opposing standpoints effectively. Archie Yates is another great child actor (he plays Yorkie), who has very little to do in the film but serves as a comedic foil that manages to hit the funny bone every time.
There are so many great roles, with Scarlet Johannsson pulling off a very sympathetic performance that brings such an emotional weight to set up one of the most dramatic scenes of the film. From the comedic side of things, Sam Rockwell was the standout performance, with an outlandish performance that is able to get the laughs but also hits hard in the serious moments. With my own musical tastes, I can't help but feel like Rockwell's character was somewhat influenced by the lead vocalist Till Lindemann, of the German rock band, Rammstein. The flair and charisma the Rockwell exudes are infectious, but it's his underlying good nature that keeps you invested in his character. From a visual standpoint, the film has some good colour grading that brings that warm yellowing colour palette we have come to expect from period pieces. The cinematography seems quite subtle, but is in fact very impactful, turning interesting focal points into deeply tragic moments later in the film.
Jojo Rabbit is a compelling examination of what leads to the spread of hatred and racism. A look at that turning point of discovering the lies, and the challenge of pitting the laws and rules against morals and ethics. Rockwell, McKenzie, and Davis' characters all undergo some powerful character development (and as a consequence, so does Waititi's Hitler, as loyalties become misaligned). Through effective framing, the violence is communicated without the need to visually show the graphic nature of it. Waititi successfully manages to balance all of these elements, combining satirical, fantastical comedy, with emotionally devastating drama.
It was very different from what I was expecting, but wow.
One couldn't help but hear about JoJo Rabbit with all the praise it was getting but time conspired against me and I didn't manage to get around to seeing it at the movie theater. I do think, though, that what really caught my interest was Hitler being played by a Maori, Jewish man (as Waititi said, it was a big f**k you in regards to Hitler). The film manages to weave together the humour of this little boy going from fan to fanaticism to dislike of Hitler, and the more serious notes of the Jewish girl hiding in his house and his mothers 'betrayal' to the Nazi's.
The acting is well done and whilst you have a stellar cast of veteran actors throughout, none of them managed to take any of the attention away from the young star, something that works really well in keeping young little JoJo as front and center, the only character to come close was Inga as both she and JoJo learn to trust each other and learn that the other side is just as human. There are plenty of little nods along the way, keep an eye out for pink triangles near the end (although it was pretty clear from early on in regards to two certain characters, that they were not straight). An attention to detail that I felt was really well done was Hitlers uniforms, they change throughout the film as Jojo's perception of him changes, and as the natural timeline of the film goes.
I did feel, when it got to a pivotal moment in the film, that it had been a short film indeed, only to then have a whole lot more happen, so it took me a couple of minutes to get back into the flow of the film. JoJo does suffer a loss, I particularly liked how this was handled in the film and found out that Waititi's reasoning for how that scene was shot was because we didn't have the right to share that moment fully and I really liked that touch to the movie. The ending was sweet but left very open, the middle had me wanting to cry and there were many moments for a laugh, a good balance of emotions. If you're expecting to see a drab and dreary Germany, this isn't the film for you, because Germany wasn't and I like that we get the realities of the war and its effect on kids and family but at the same time keeps the country realistic.
I didn't LOVE this film, but JoJo Rabbit is wonderfully acted, gives a great range of emotions, shows the real colourful Germany and kept me engaged for the most part. I will watch this again, when the kids are old enough to understand what is going on.
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