Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a boy blinded by misguided love for Hitler (Taika Waititi), whom he forms an imaginary friendship with during the height of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, has his world turned upside down and is forced to ask hard questions of his closed world views after discovering that his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic
We've had a fair amount of anti-war films that Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July, Hacksaw Ridge, Fail-Safe, which have hit the mark where it matters, but rarely do we get full-blown satires that make us laugh in the face of wanton violence erupting from war. The only other such film that comes to mind is the 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick (who also helmed the aforementioned Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket). Decades later we get a film that, though not in the same league (it would be nigh impossible for most films to join the league of Strangelove), stands tall as a deep satirical dig at war and all the that follow in its aftermath.
What's it about
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a boy blinded by misguided love for Hitler (Taika Waititi), whom he forms an imaginary friendship with during the height of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, has his world turned upside down and is forced to ask hard questions of his closed world views after discovering that his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic.
Jojo Rabbit benefits largely from Taika Waititi never taking his subject seriously yet never treating war flippantly. It's this tightrope balancing act that embellishes the film with a refreshing surrealism juxtaposed against harsh realities. The humour sways between eliciting bell-aching laughter and mild chuckles, always keeping us engaged, never crossing a sensitive line. That it all takes place against a gruesome portrait, brimming with peril, fanaticism and violence, yet never finds itself missing the satirical spot, speaks volumes of Waititi's vision, his writing, impeccable assistance from cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare Jr. and editor Tom Eagles and last but by no means least, how well his actors perform their parts.
Johansson effortlessly underplays a tough role while Sam Rockwell, on the other hand, is delightfully and justifiably over-the-top as a Nazi officer with a kind heart. Rebel Wilson, too, impresses in a small role, and Waititi, who juggles multiple hats in this one, is as up to the task as his fellow actors, pitching in a bonkers act as petulant Adolf Hitler. However, it's 12-year old Davis who walks away with the most applause, stealing the show from under the noses of the senior pros with a performance years ahead of his age. We just hope that the proverbial curse of the child actor doesn't befall him.
As good as Jojo Rabbit is, there was ample scope for making it even better had Waititi dug deeper into Nazi propaganda, which would have further played out Jojo's dilemmas. The climax also feels too hurried in contrast with the smoothness of all that precedes it. Plus, there are a few portions in the narrative that could've done with being played out longer for greater effect.
All things considered, Jojo Rabbit is a timely satire of an archaically brutal time that's as relevant today as it was then. It asks the right questions and presents some beautifully funny answers to them. It may bear some minor cracks in a few places, but they're the sort of flaws I'll welcome with open arms in the face of such an engrossing film. I'm going with 3.5 out of 5 stars.