Monday 18 November 2019

Film Review: Jojo Rabbit

A kooky comedy that pokes fun at the Third Reich, Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit mixes silliness with sincerity to great effect. 

With his blonde hair, blue eyes and bedroom walls plastered with swastikas, little Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is the poster boy for Nazi Germany. With his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi) by his side, Jojo aspires to do his country proud – despite the fact that, deep down, he's actually a bit of a wuss.

One day, young Jojo learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a frail Jewish girl,  in the walls of their family home. Jojo sees this as his opportunity to prove himself, by handing Elsa over to the authorities and earning some admiration amongst the older boys who taunt him in the process. However, the two get to talking, and soon enough Jojo is learning everything he previously knew about Germany's enemies was a lie.

With its picturesque European symmetry, twee cast and general irreverence, Jojo Rabbit is a Taika Waititi joint by way of Wes Anderson's distinct style. The collision of tone and imagery is a little jarring at first – an early scene sees Jojo skip merrily down the street, saluting everyone he passes and shouting 'heil Hitler!'. Safe to say, Waititi's satirical slant won't be suited to all tastes, and the New Zealand director does wobble once or twice on the tonal tightrope.

Waititi – who plays Hitler in addition to serving as both writer and director – portrays the villainous dictator as a calamitous moron, who veers from sulky and silly to straight-up stupid. Sam Rockwell and Stephen Merchant also shine as drunken Captain Klenzendorf and Gestapo investigator Deertz respectively. But it's Johansson who makes a compelling case for Best Supporting Actress glory come next March, with a tender and wholesome performance buoyed by maternal warmth and whimsy.

The young child actors – Davis and Archie Yates, who looks like a miniature Nick Frost and plays Jojo's world-weary best friend Yorki – are another highlight, with their often awkward line readings and verbose vocabularies adding to the film's goofiness.

However, Waititi is a filmmaker who understands that silliness can only get you so far. Underneath the slapstick, silly costumes and throwaway visual gags – one involving clones is particularly funny – Jojo Rabbit is a sincere and serious film about the understated strength in putting aside our insecurities and being kind to one another.

The emotional wallop – you will know it when you feel it – sneaks up on you, with Waititi subtly adding to it in the background while you chuckle along at the surreal satire happening in the foreground.

The Verdict: 8/10

Nothing brings the horrors of history home to roost like stacking them side-by-side with a Jewish Maori man running round in a Hitler costume. Jojo Rabbit mixes melancholy with whimsy, and Johansson exemplifies this wonderful contraction through one of the best performance of the year.

Jojo Rabbit is in cinemas across Australia on Boxing Day.

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