New Zealand has given us many good things: The Lord of the Rings, Jacinda Ardern, the bungy jump and of course Taika Waititi, who has once again returned to the big screen with his anti-hate satire film about a young boy called Jojo Rabbit. The guy known for Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do in the Shadows brings his characteristic quirky, deadpan, pun induced humour to this film about Nazi Germany. In doing so, he delivers an entertaining film, although it does sit slightly behind his past work.
The film follows Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a ten-year-old boy desperately trying to join the Hitler Youth with a dream of becoming a Nazi soldier someday. Growing up at the end of the Second World War, Jojo tries to fit in with the Nazi culture and with the people he is surrounded by. However, a fork in the road appears when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) within the walls of their home. This leads Jojo to grapple with his own misinformed ideas and identity in his country.
If you’re familiar with other Waititi films, then you would know that he doesn’t stray very far from his past characters. Jojo, like Ricky Baker from Hunt for the Wilderpeople or Boy from Boy, doesn’t quite fit into the mold prescribed to him. Jojo tries with all his might to become a Nazi soldier and believes whole heartedly in the nightmarish and outlandish tales of Jewish people that are fed to him. He believes Jews have horns and can read minds. Despite Jojo’s efforts, he never seems quite capable of the viciousness that is required of him and sits apart from the other Hitler Youth. Jojo is just another one of Waititi’s discovered talents. Although only young, Davis is incredibly engaging as he delivers his lines with deadpan humour and displays an innocence to the world around him.
Taika Waititi himself appears in the film as none other than Hitler, Jojo’s imaginary friend. This relationship often leads to many haphazard encounters as Hitler feeds Jojo with ridiculous ideas. Waititi provides a funny caricature of Hitler, from the overly blue contacts in Waititi’s eyes to the paunch of a stomach and his over the top silliness. In many ways, Hitler replaces Jojo’s absent father figure and is treated like a celebrity, with posters of him plastered on Jojo’s walls. Jojo’s infatuation with Hitler and the rockstar images of him as a leader seem to give logic to the infatuation young people had with Hitler which lead to the youths of that era following him blindly.
Waititi creates the silliness and bizarreness of Nazi Germany with lighthearted humour, managing to do so without cheapening the seriousness and sadness of the situation. He does this particularly well through the cast of colourful side characters. Whilst Jojo is naive to the world just like the adults in his life, Sam Rockwell plays the lazy Captain of the Hitler Youth, Klenzendorf. He is helped by the enthusiastic instructor, Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson. Both are poor leaders to the Hitler Youth and have complete control over them. These two characters are extremely funny but are sadly underused in the film, along with Stephen Merchant who is a member of the Gestapo.
The bright sets and equally bright rock soundtrack build an engaging world that draws you in to what is essentially a hateful war-torn society. Sprinkled within the film are jokes that didn’t seem to land altogether and at times the film felt flat, particularly in the middle. Jojo Rabbit seems to borrow elements from Waititi’s previous films but hasn’t delivered the same level of humour. What it does get right though is the balance of silliness to sadness that at times, sit successfully side by side in the same scene.
This film has solidified Waititi’s name in Hollywood; when people now say they’re going to see a Taika Waititi film, we know what kind of film to expect. Jojo Rabbit brings Waititi’s trademark charm and bizarreness with a few less laughs than his previous efforts, however, it still provides an unforgettable good time.
Jojo Rabbit is in cinemas now.