Taika Waititi has proven that he’s a director prepared to take risks, and no more so than with Jojo Rabbit, a story seen through the eyes of 10-year-old German lad towards the end of WWII.
The boy in question is young Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis, in a stunning acting debut), who has swallowed Nazi indoctrination hook, line and sinker. As a member of the Hitler Youth, he is knee-deep in completely unsuitable training when an episode occurs that “earns” him his nickname. Then there’s the thing with the grenade.
If he wasn’t having a bad enough time of things, what with the name-calling and the being blown up and stuff, he then discovers that the mother whom he adores in Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring a young Jewish girl right there in the walls of his home. This leaves young Jojo with a lot of questions. none of which are answered by his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi)…
Nazis and Adolf Hitler hardly spring to mind when thinking fodder for comedy, however the great Mel Brooks put things quite deftly when speaking of his very own The Producers: “If you can make fun of him, if you can have people laugh at him, you win.”
Jojo Rabbit succeeds in this respect, although it isn’t the roll about the floor farce that most of the trailers would lead us to believe. Much of the story is dramatic, heartfelt and incredibly moving – Johansson’s Rosie, in particular, is quite amazing – and in all it’s a credit to Waititi, who is himself of Jewish descent. In lesser hands (and heart) it could easily have been an utter mess.
The comedy comes mostly from the utter buffoonery of the Nazis portrayed, starting at Waititi’s ridiculous Hitler (continually offering cigarettes to a 10-year-old, for example) and ranging right through to skewering those who are attracted to the imagery and uniforms of the Third Reich. With the likes of Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant playing various Nazis, parts of Jojo Rabbit are genuinely funny – although at times we did find ourselves feeling uncomfortable when laughing.
Waititi has claimed that an aim with Jojo Rabbit was simply to say, “Why can’t we all just get along?” There would have been far less confronting ways to have achieved this, but then if this superb addition to his canon makes one person seduced by the inconceivable horrors of Nazism in this ever more right-leaning world that we’re currently living in question their choice for even a minute, then it has done us all a service.
In cinemas: December 26, 2019
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi
Directed by: Taika Waititi