Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Dir: Taika Waititi
Understandably, a comedy featuring Hitler is never going to appeal to everyone, it’s a risky prospect and hard to mix those elements in a palatable way, so it was no surprise that on release, this got some very mixed and polarised views. After just my first time seeing it at the cinema I was happy to place myself firmly in the group who loved this film, something that has become solidified now that I’ve seen it again a couple of times.
Growing up in Nazi Germany, ten-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin-Davies) is an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth, so much so that his imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler himself (played by director Taika Waititi), but everything he thought he knew is brought into question when he finds a Jewish girl (Tomasin Mackenzie, ‘Leave No Trace’) hiding in the walls of his house.
Disney’s acquisition of Fox gave them a number of films that were in post-production or ready to be released, which so far have resulted in a handful of ‘flops’ (‘Dark Phoenix’ sadly I’m talking about you), one solid performer the form of ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ (although it was expected to get more Award nominations) and then there’s this, undoubtedly the strangest of their inherited bundle of titles, the hardest sell, a film the studio would never have made themselves despite having a close relationship with the writer/director/star. Astoundingly, it’s become their most successful film in terms of award nominations this year by far, single-handedly getting almost as many Oscar nominations than their animated titles, Marvel films, and Star Wars combined. The six nominations across key categories including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actress means it’s brightly outshone their own productions in the awards race, and in my opinion, deservedly so.
Waititi uses absurdity to powerful effect, something that he’s become known for, sharply contrasting outlandish humour in the midst of horrific treatment and heartbreaking sadness. Emotions are sharply butted against each other frequently, switching from making the audience laugh one minute to crying the next.
Ensemble casts don’t get much better than this, many with the experience and proven ability to balance drama and comedy, even in a single performance. While all are excellent there are a few particular stand-out performances that elevate the film far above what many might expect from a satirical war comedy.
Jojo actor Roman Griffin Davis is charming, his performance is great, though he’s often outshone by the more experienced cast. Many of his scenes are stolen by co-stars Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, and Tomasin Mackenzie, all of whom have brilliantly crafted their characters to be really compelling with their own unique perspectives, though there are a few where he’s alone and able to really shine. Scarlett Johansson was nominated for two Academy Awards this year and her supporting role in this leaves you in little doubt as to why it got her a nomination, she’s warm, funny, magnetic, adding much-needed compassion to the story as a counterpoint to her indoctrinated son.
To my sensibilities, the humour works, the film is really funny and the audience I saw it with laughed heartily in all the right places. There’s a broad spectrum of humour, from subtle reference to Rebel Wilson, most of which landed firmly where it aimed. Conversely, the moments of heartbreak are truly shattering, especially when they take the story in ways I didn’t think the film would go.
Some people, maybe a lot of people, just won’t get it, many will struggle with the satirical nature and offbeat humour in a film that’s inherently serious as it deals with a holocaust theme and may even object to it based upon that. Personally, I didn’t struggle to get completely on board with what Taika Waititi was going for, I’m a fan of his sense of humour and got it from the trailer and even more so when I saw the whole film, it didn’t offend me as I found it dealt with key points with the appropriate seriousness and weight.
‘Jojo Rabbit’ was nominated for many prestigious awards. At the BAFTAs it was nominated for 6 including Production Design and Supporting Actress walking away with one for Adapted Screenplay. Later at the Academy Awards where it had 6 nominations although I didn’t have much confidence that it would walk away with many in the end it did as predicted get Taika Waititi his first Oscar by winning for the Adapted Screenplay.