"Jojo Rabbit" (2019)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Taika Waititi
Based on the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens
Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell

‘A Hilarious Anti-Hate Satire’

It is not easy to infuse humor into a subject as serious as the Holocaust. Humor is a risky way to remind movie-goers of the greatest mass genocide in history. There’s nothing inherently funny about Adolf Hitler, the Nazi regime or atrocities that Jews experienced. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped filmmakers from making comedies on the Holocaust. Ever since 1997’s award-winning “Life is Beautiful”, filmmakers have sought ways to infuse humor into the Holocaust. Some movies have succeeded in pulling off this feat, but most have failed miserably. These films have proven that the Holocaust is simply no laughing matter.

Now, Taika Waititi brings humor to the sensitive subject in his latest film “Jojo Rabbit”. A bold, hilarious and heartbreaking satire, it proves that it’s possible to inject humor into the Holocaust. With his latest feature, writer/director Taika Waititi has crafted an audacious anti-hate satire that works tremendously. Packed with gorgeous production values, smart storytelling and powerful performances from the cast, it offers the prime example of an effective Holocaust satire. Although “Jojo Rabbit” is undeniably unforgettable, it is not a film without flaws. It is slightly long, and features sudden tonal shifts that some viewers may find jarring. That being said, it offers original entertainment that fans of Taika Waititi won’t be able to resist.

Set during World War II, “Jojo Rabbit” tells the story of a patriotic German boy that idolizes Hitler. Roman Griffin Davis stars in the lead role as Jojo Betzler, a brainwashed ten-year old that participates in Hitler Youth. Jojo’s beliefs in the Nazi regime are strengthened by his imaginary friend- a childish version of Adolf Hitler. However, when Jojo discovers that is mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic, his world view is turned upside down. As Jojo begins to fall in love with the girl, he is forced to confront his blind nationalism.

It’s a hilarious anti-hate satire that is expertly crafted by writer/director Taika Waititi. Ever since he burst onto the scene with 2014’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, Waititi has proven to be a comic genius. His films are absurdly funny, and touch on timely issues facing the world today. With “Jojo Rabbit”, however, Waititi takes his first step into historical territory. It’s the director’s first attempt at making a period piece set in Nazi Germany. It is not easy to recreate an olden time period, but Waititi pulls it off seamlessly. Using phenomenal production design, Waititi draws viewers into the country of Germany in World War II. From the authentic uniforms worn by Nazi-officers to breathtaking wartime sets, the production values transport viewers into 1940’s Germany. Waititi excels at recreating the darkest time period in German history, and his latest feature is worth watching on the big-screen for this reason alone.

If gorgeous production values do not attract you to the theater, though, the unique concept behind “Jojo Rabbit” certainly will. The film is extremely well-written, and offers a clever spin on German history. Waititi’s screenplay is spectacular, and arguably the main highlight of the movie. Filled with larger-than-life characters, witty dialogue and hilarious situations, the script elevates the movie to another level. Waititi’s greatest strength as a screenwriter has always been his ability to blend humor and pathos, and it is clearly evident in this film. At times, the film is hilarious and lighthearted especially in the scenes where it pokes fun at the Nazi regime. However, the film is also quite solemn and heartbreaking when it depicts the harsh realities of the war. It’s a tricky tonal balance to achieve, but Waititi pulls it off tremendously. Using a well-balanced screenplay, Waititi keeps viewers emotionally invested in the life of a patriotic German boy.

It is hard to not admire the amazing performances from the cast. Every actor gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression, but the film is mainly a showcase for its child star.

Roman Griffin Davis delivers a dazzling debut performance as Jojo Betzler. In his first ever leading role, Davis proves to be an exceptional child actor with a knack for playing brainwashed youth. It is not easy to get into the mindset of a German boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler. It’s a challenging role that requires a lot of imagination from the child actor, but Davis pulls it off effortlessly. With enchanting expressions, he captures the innocence, naivety and patriotism of a boy raised in Nazi Germany. At twelve years old, Davis is a relatively young and inexperienced star. However, this powerful performance proves that he has a bright future in the industry.

The supporting cast is excellent and also worthy of recognition. Scarlett Johansson is sensational and brings a sense of gravitas to the role of Jojo’s mother Rosie. Thomasin McKenzie is marvelous and tugs on your heartstrings as the Jewish girl Elsa. And finally, it is hard to not mention Taika Waititi himself. As a satirical version of Adolf Hitler, he brings hilarious comical relief and persona to the movie.

Although “Jojo Rabbit” is undeniably a spectacular satire, ultimately it is not a flawless film. At nearly two hours, it is slightly long and suffers from a lengthy running-time. Assisted by Michael Giacchino’s whimsical score, Taika Waititi keeps the film moving at an engaging pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its explosive finale, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the movie features sudden tonal shifts that viewers may find grating. Waititi’s decision to switch from moments of humor to heartbreak is bold and innovative, but it doesn’t always work. It makes for a jarring experience, leaving viewers confused as to whether they should laugh or cry. Due to its sudden shifts in tone, “Jojo Rabbit” is one of those films that may not appeal to mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of Taika Waititi’s previous films will definitely enjoy “Jojo Rabbit” and so will movie-goers seeking original entertainment this awards season. Holocaust comedies are a tough sell for modern audiences, but this one is still worth a watch. It proves that humor is a powerful tool that can be used by filmmakers to confront the most horrific events in the history of mankind.

4/5 stars

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