Film Review: Jojo Rabbit

Review by Frances Winston

Directed by: Taika Waititi – Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

This movie sets out its irreverent stall very early on, when we are introduced to the titular character, Jojo’s (Davis) imaginary friend, Hitler (yes you read that right) played here by director, Waititi, on double-jobbing duties (actually triple jobbing since he also wrote the screenplay).

It is the kind of portrayal of the notorious German dictator that we probably haven’t seen since The Producers, or The Great Dictator, and will no doubt make one or two people wince. But don’t let it put you off sticking with this surprisingly deep and imaginative flick.

The aforementioned Jojo is a ten year-old member of the Hitler youth, and we meet him during the latter stages of WWII. After an accident at a training camp, he is left scarred, and with a slight limp. In an attempt to make him feel included, his mother, Rosie (Johansson) asks an officer, Captain Klenzendorf (Rockwell) to give him jobs around his office, which sees him subsequently spreading propaganda leaflets throughout the town.

Extremely dedicated to the Nazi cause, he is stunned to discover that his mother is hiding a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa (McKenzie) in their home. When she convinces him that his mother would be killed if the Gestapo were to find out she was there, he reluctantly agrees she can stay.

However, he insists that she tell him all the Jewish secrets, so that he can write a definitive book about the race, and impress his fellow Nazis. As the two of them work on his secret project, Jojo’s worldview is slowly chipped away, and he begins to realise that perhaps Hitler’s vision may not be the ideal one after all. But as the war continues to an ever more violent end, his realisation may have come too late.

For a movie dealing with such a serious topic as WWII, this actually has a huge amount of humour. However, underneath the satire, there is a serious anti-hate message. It is extremely heart-warming and touching, but just when you are feeling warm and cosy, it hits you with a truly touching or shocking scene. Without posting spoilers, there is a moment about two thirds of the way through that will literally have you gasping with horror, and yet marvelling at how subtly Waititi had set this moment up throughout the preceding scenes.

The production design is fabulous, and the soundtrack is also brilliant, and features many surprises that only help to add to the sheer whimsy of the overall product.

Davis is a revelation. For such a young actor he is extremely comfortable with very mature material. He will absolutely tug at your heartstrings. McKenzie too is fabulous as Elsa, and instils her with a strength and maturity that even many older actresses would struggle with.

Rockman is wonderful as Jojo’s surrogate father-figure, Captain Klenzendorf, and Johansson gives a wonderfully layered turn as Jojo’s mother. Although there are many other well-known names in the ensemble, they don’t really distinguish themselves, and being honest, their roles could have been played by anyone. Not to detract from their talent, but their roles are more featured cameos than anything else.

No doubt some people will feel that this could have gone darker with its subject matter – and perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on the actual terrors of the holocaust – but this quirky take on a horrific moment in world history is extremely feel-good.

It’s charming and engaging, even if it is not historically accurate. But it’s not supposed to be an epic period war-drama, and, as I said at the start of this review, it makes that clear from the off.

I really enjoyed this, and would happily sit through it again. You could do worse than start 2020 with this on your watch-list.

In Cinemas Now!

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