When Taika Waititi pitched the idea of his newest film, Jojo Rabbit, to studio executives, they probably thought one of two things: either that Waititi has been driven mad and has gone too far or that his comedic ingenuity is at work yet again. I hope they thought the latter because this Nazi comedy (yes, that’s right) is another vibrant entry into Waititi’s filmography. His sense of humor has become the signature part of all of his films, from Hunt for the Wilderpeople to Thor: Ragnarok, and here he proves that he can take the darkest of material and make it lively and crowd-pleasing. Is this movie morally questionable? Of course, but the film addresses the ambiguities in various different ways throughout the film, and it is also not afraid to get serious and more personal when it needs to.
Jojo Rabbit is a coming-of-age story diguised as a Nazi Germany satire. The audience spends the film getting to know Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his life as a Hitler-worshipping Nazi youth who is struggling in his training to become a soldier. He conforms to all of the cultural norms that are thrown at him–Jews are evil and degenerate, the Aryan race is superior–until he finds a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his wall. To his awe, she looks and acts just like a normal human despite his hearing how devilish and despicable the Jewish are, and this throws a wrench into his life and personal beliefs. Oh, and Hitler (Taika Waititi) is there too.
Comedy-wise, this film is damn near perfect. The jokes are all devilishly clever, and the bluntness of Waititi’s writing is so off-putting that I couldn’t help but laugh at his humor even though I felt as though I was going straight to hell for enjoying it. Every single character in the movie brings a great balance of drama and comedy to their roles, making them not only likable but interesting to dive into. This keeps the audience invested for every frame and makes the hour and 50 minute runtime fly by. While the tone doesn’t always feel crystal clear, the intent is endearing enough for the ludicrous and often slapstick events to feel authentic.
Any humor attempted in this movie would fall flat without actors who have great comedic timing. Luckily, it seems that Waititi is an expert at seeking out actors with both impeccable comedic timing and emotional depth, for every actor is fantastic. Some highlights include Waititi himself as Hitler, who basically acts as the comedic relief in the narrative (yes, you heard that right). He overdoes his flamboyant and lively nature as the evil dictator, and this is perfect for his role in the narrative (no spoilers). Another standout is Sam Rockwell as Jojo’s military instructor, who comes off as drunk and inefficient, but has more under the surface. The mix of emotion and dry humor that Rockwell excels at in this project is no surprise, because he has been proving himself as one of the most reliable actors in the industry time and time again for the past couple of years. But it’s still satisfying to see him kill it in yet another role that seems as though it was written for him. I don’t have the time to talk about every awesome actor and actress in this cast, but there is no weak link here, and Jojo Rabbit is worth watching for the performances alone.
What keeps Jojo Rabbit at “really good” instead of “outstanding” is its unwillingness to go that one extra step towards a truly memorable message. The concept of this film is daring and original, but under the surface, the story isn’t anything audiences haven’t seen before. Jojo’s journey is fun to watch and it is always convincing and honest, but the message and themes end up being the most forgettable part of the entire film. Even though Jojo Rabbit takes such a high amount of risks, it still manages to be conventional in the area that can make or break most films: the point. Fortunately, all other areas of the movie are excellent enough to keep it afloat, but some more clarity and ingenuity with the subtext would have gone a long way.
Waititi is too talented to let one simple thing bring his entire project down, and Jojo Rabbit is still a wildly entertaining and different experience. I daresay any movie can claim to both have Hitler as a central character and be one of the funniest movies of the year, and I can think of no other person but Taika Waititi who would successfully pull this off. There is a scene in Jojo Rabbit where Adolf Hitler and a kid are frolicking in the woods on their way to steal a grenade. If that sounds insane that’s because it is, but it’s also a riot with tons of heart. It isn’t afraid to get sad and serious, but the main focus is on the laughs, which is where the film truly shines. Oscars may not be in Jojo Rabbit’s imminent future, but audiences won’t soon forget this unorthodox and flawed farce.
I give Jojo Rabbit a B+.