You know you’re in for something amazing when a writer/director like Taika Waititi is behind it, and its story that’s probably offbeat that not a ton of causal people won’t get. Jojo Rabbit is the latest from him and Fox Searchlight that I hope gets more attention before the year ends.
What’s the Story: Setting during WWII, Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old German boy living in Nazi Germany whose imaginary best friend is a very different version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi) and wants to join the Third Reich. But when his world is turned upside down when his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is secretly hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Leave No Trace‘s Thomasin McKenzie) in their walls, he must come to realize the person he’s growing to be and decide what’s right in the world.
For a film that revolves around Hitler and its mostly a comedy, that’s a risky project to handle. I can believe Waititi had a hard time pitching this story to every studio out there. This is meant to be a satirical, anti-hate comedy that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. Just hearing the premise sounded like he’s the perfect man to do so, especially when he already made smaller indies like Hunt for the Wilderpeople to enjoyable blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok, and both of them are great in their respective ways. But let me tell you, it’s easy to see why people are crazy about Jojo Rabbit since it’s great.
First things first, Waitit’s style of direction and writing is best when it’s fast-paced and understands that this isn’t a parody of what happened in WWII and war itself. This would probably wind up being mediocre if this ended up in the wrong hands, but he was the perfect man to make this work. Before walking into this, I didn’t even know this plot was based on a 2008 novel called Caging Skies by Christine Leunens and just thought this was an original idea that Waiti came up in his mind.
But is this funny for a film that’s story is surrounded by dark subject matter like this? Yes, and you’ll be surprised by how hilarious it truly is. It was so close to rivaling Booksmart as one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen this because this had some memorable laughs throughout that pleases those who know the director’s type of humor.
Griffin Davis’ performance as the titular character makes for one of the biggest breakout stars of the year that makes for a very likable main character that we’re viewing his world through his eyes. For a feature film debut, I hope he gets more work because of this since it’s a role that requires him to have a good balance of comic and dramatic moments that worked perfectly. I also thought the chemistry between him and McKenzie’s Elsa was great when they started to gain some kind of friendship when getting to more each other more.
The rest of the cast is excellent, including Johansson, who gives one of the strongest performances in her career yet. If this proves anything, it’s that she needs to showcase more comedic roles, as she had some funny lines. She also said one line that I will remember that’s sounded true. Then you also got Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant, who don’t disappoint with the material given to them. Also, I got to shout out to Archie Yates, who crushes every scene as Jojo’s best friend Yorki.
And then there’s Waititi, who completely disappears in his performance as this cartoon-ish version of Hitler. Portraying the evilest person in the world probably wasn’t the easiest task to take on when it has to be taken in a comical light, but he just pulled it off in so many ways that you just brought into how silly he’s played out. I was just waiting for him to come on screen because he’s just hilarious in every scene he’s in just having a great time.
But even though Jojo Rabbit is shown to be hilarious at any chance given, this isn’t afraid to lean on the dramatic side that’s rightfully earned and doesn’t make it. I didn’t notice that we can also view this as a coming-of-age dramedy about a boy who might change his ways into how his world works. Not only that, but it shows that we shouldn’t judge people from what we hear about them and fearing what they might do, which Jojo thinks all Jews are evil and much more.
Waititi was able to provide the kind of message one should gain to learn about those we’ve grown to hate and realize that everybody is still a human being. Basically, it’s all about understanding who we are and deciding if that’s who we want to be in life. It doesn’t shy away at have certain shots that would’ve likely happened to someone back then and doesn’t make it into some kind of joke and ruin the established tone.
Also, the score really stood out, which came as a surprise to learn that Michael Giacchino was behind it.
Would anybody see this as some kind of Oscar contender? Now that I’ve seen it, I hope it gets some kind of recognition in terms of Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, and possibly Waititi for Supporting Actor? Who knows, right now?
To me, there was never a dull moment that I can think of. I’ve just been hearing good word of mouth from this ever since it debuted at TIFF and won the People’s Choice audience award, and the hype is there. Jojo Rabbit was something that’s needed after not seeing a great movie in over a month. This is the kind of coming-of-age tale that’s unexpectedly funny, heartwarming, and honestly explores a much deeper meaning in its story. Waitit has done it once again by helming one of the best films to come out all year.