Jojo Rabbit, the latest from Hunt for the Wilderpeople writer/director Taika Waititi, has been received rather snootily in certain quarters, despite a recent Best Picture Oscar nomination. Quite honestly I can’t understand why. Yes, this offbeat tale of Jojo – a confused ten-year old boy in the Hitler youth who has Adolf as an imaginary friend – lacks the biting satirical edge in other films of its ilk, but that simply doesn’t matter. Jojo Rabbit is funny, poignant, absurd, and at times properly tragic. Conceived as an anti-hate parable by Waititi, the film absolutely has its heart in the right place, and I’m puzzled that many critics have been unable to see this.
Based on a novel by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s characteristic quirky, surreal humour is inherent throughout his screenplay adaptation. But despite the dark hilarity that ensues in the opening Hitler Youth camp sequences, there is a genuine sense that whilst the film is funny, Nazi Germany absolutely was not. Jojo‘s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is well aware that her son has been brainwashed by the Nazi regime, which is why she keeps secret the teenage Jewish girl Elsa she is hiding in her house. When Jojo discovers Elsa, and begins to form a bond with her (despite having been brainwashed into thinking Jews are rats, demons, etc), their relationship puts himself at odds with imaginary Adolf.
Performances are all good, especially from Johansson. Thomasin McKenzie is also great as Elsa, trolling Jojo hilariously over the ludicrous propaganda he’s been fed about Jewish people. Waititi himself plays imaginary Adolf to hysterical effect, but at the same time we aren’t allowed to forget that he essentially personifies a demonic evil that has taken root in Jojo’s mind. For all his bravado, Jojo is a frightened boy trapped in a horrific chapter of history, and Roman Griffin Davis does an excellent job of portraying this in his lead performance. There are also great bit parts for Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and best of all Sam Rockwell as embittered, cynical, secretly gay Captain Klenzendorf. Rockwell’s final scenes with Jojo are quietly devastating and very powerful.
On a technical level, Waititi and his editor Tom Eagles do a good job of blending in newsreel footage at appropriate points, along with cheerfully anachronistic pop music (from the likes of The Beatles and David Bowie). Michael Giacchino also contributes a fine score, and Mihai Malaimare Jr’s opulent cinematography is another asset.
All things considered, I would definitely recommend Jojo Rabbit. It might not be the stand-out film among this year’s Best Picture nominees, but overall it is entertaining and satisfying. Yes, it doesn’t quite chime with contemporary concerns in a warning-from-history sort of way, but as I’ve said before, there can never be too many films about Nazi Germany. If nothing else, it serves as a choke-on-your-laughter reminder of the appalling damage the Hitler youth did to an entire generation.
UK Certificate: 12A
US Certificate: PG-13