Jojo Rabbit review: Jojo Rabbit seems too chary of real evil knocking at the door, and too intent on sheathing it behind inane, laugh-out-loud humour.
Jojo Rabbit movie cast: Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson
Jojo Rabbit movie director: Taika Waititi
Jojo Rabbit movie rating: 3.5 stars
Director Taika Waititi, also the scriptwriter of the film based on Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies, also the Hitler of this tale, takes a while getting to what he is doing here. But when he does, oh when he does, Jojo Rabbit bursts through portraying war in all its absurdity — particularly through the eyes of the children at the heart of it.
Jews have horns and are born of eggs. Russians mate with dogs. And Japanese are our allies though, surprisingly, they do not at all look Aryan. Three children navigate through this maze of myths which holds up their world and divides it into “enemy” and “friends”. World War II hardly means more to them than these small facts.
What happens though when one of these “facts” hides in a wall in your home, helped by your mother, and she gradually becomes a person and not a caricature.
Anne Frank, The Book Thief, Margot Moon, even Inglourious Basterds, and several other known and unknown stories, rest on people “who did what they could”, when others were doing what they should not have. Waititi hence is not in virgin territory here, and in the beginning, seems to be veering too far out towards rendering Hitler as a goof who even helps a jittery 10-year-old through “manly” trials like Hitler Youth camps. Jojo Rabbit seems too chary of real evil knocking at the door, and too intent on sheathing it behind inane, laugh-out-loud humour.
However, then the girl in hiding this time, Elsa (McKenzie), steps out of her hole, and the film perceptibly shifts. Jojo (Davis), a small boy trying so hard to be a good Nazi that he has invented Hitler (Waititi) as an imaginary friend, doesn’t know how to react to Elsa (McKenzie is particularly good). Jojo does not know what to make of his mother Rosie (Johansson), either, as she does not seem to treat the Fatherland with as much respect as she should.
Jojo Rabbit, of course, is about the gradual friendship between Elsa and Jojo. But it is how Waititi tackles this, mocking the narratives we build about people (any people) different (any different) from us, that makes this special. Rosie is trying to nudge her son that way too, by talking to him about love, dancing, and why this and not war and politics should be on a 10-year-old’s mind.
Rockwell puts in a fine performance as an obviously gay Nazi officer given the duties of handling youngsters after losing an eye, who sees clearly the impending doom and why humanity is the only thing that matters. Archie Yates as Jojo’s friend Yorki simply steals your heart as the boy who wants to be just a boy.
At one moment in the film, as Elsa loses hope, Rosie tells her, “They will never win. That is your power… As long as you live, they lose.”
When all the “Heil Hitlering” is done — and this itself is played for a hilarious scene in Jojo Rabbit — that is what will always hold true.