Jojo Rabbit [TIFF19 Review]

First still from the set of WW2 satire, JOJO RABIT. (From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). Photo by Kimberley French. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Just try to imagine the pitch meeting for Jojo Rabbit; a satire about a young boy living in Nazi Germany whose imaginary best friend happens to be Adolph Hitler. Jojo Rabbit is wild, funny and at times warm. You will feel bad for about 20 minutes for laughing at something Adolph Hitler said but then you relax and everything is okay. All of this would not have been possible had the film not been in the brilliant hand of Taika Waititi. I can’t imagine this film being made had Waititi not directed Thor: Ragnarok and the film had not been a commercial success. It’s hard to imagine any executive saying yes to this had he not been so successful with his films beforehand. But I am so glad someone said yes to this because it’s something special. While it will be interesting to see how Disney, yes Disney, market this film since it is now part of their slate since the acquisition of Fox, I will continue to hope that they do it right and this becomes a hit because it deserves it.

Jojo Betzler is socially awkward and a loser. He loves his mother, his country and Hitler. He truly believes that everything the Nazi party tells is the truth and that Jewish people are the bad guy. Flanked by his imaginary best friend, he hopes that one day he will get to be in Hitler’s private guard. But after an accident at camp, Jojo finds himself “deformed” and stuck being an errand boy. One day, he finds a girl hiding in the walls in his dead sister’s bedroom, hidden there by his mother. Jojo decides to keep her secret as long as she tells him everything about her people. This leads him into a journey of self-discovery and makes Jojo confront all the done he has done but also the damage his country has.

Jojo Rabbit is brilliant satire but it’s also an emotional gut-punching film. Yes, you will laugh at Waititi’s Hitler but by the end, as Jojo finally sees the reality of the world he so adored, you will applaud has he finally gets what he deserves. The jokes are fast and hit hard, but then they are followed by emotional moments. After all, we are watching a film about Nazi Germany. Jojo Rabbit hides it’s message pretty well but layer by layer it peels it back. By the end, you have seen a beautiful story about love, acceptance and discovery. It might not be what we know in terms of film, but it’s one that we need. With today’s political climate, it’s not hard to see the importance of this film, not only that but that it was made by a Jewish man of colour who then cast himself to play Hitler. While some have raised the question of if this film is something that should have happened and if we can laugh at Hitler, I will direct them to go and watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and then come back and ask that question again.

With great performances to anchor the film, Waititi is able to let the scene run. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Scarlett Johansson (Avengers) lead the veteran cast and give the best performances of the veteran side. But the film really belongs to it’s two young actors. Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) who plays Elsa, the young Jewish girl hidden in the house, and Roman Griffin Davis, his debut feature, who plays the titular Jojo give phenomenal performances. Together, they are able to go from making us laugh non-stop to making us try and hold our tears. It’s performances that deserve attention and that proves that they have a bright future in front of them. But the true star of the show is Waititi’s Hitler. His performance is exactly what it needed to be, every scene he is in, he controls perfectly. There’s a moment where his character exits the scene by jumping out of a window and I had to try and calm myself to breathe again because I couldn’t stop laughing. It might be something we don’t feel comfortable doing but Waititi is so delicious in this role that you won’t be able to stop yourself.

Jojo Rabbit might not hit every emotional beat but its heart in the right place. It will make you laugh so much that you will forgive its faults. A timely film that makes you think about our world and how we act in it. Friendship, family and love are explored beautifully and you won’t want it to stop. Satires aren’t the norm anymore and yet they should be because they are necessary and a part of comedy. Only they can explore hard memories like World War 2 and Nazi Germany. I will be interested to see the public’s reaction to this one since it is a subject that might not please everyone but I, for one, think Jojo Rabbit is a comedy that deserves all the attention in the world.

This film also happens to have my favourite joke of any movie this year where Sam Rockell’s character asked Alfie Allen’s (Game of Thrones) to bring him German Shepperd and instead of bringing him the dogs he brings him… German shepherds.