Posted On May 1, 2021
It would have been late 2019 when I first heard about Jojo Rabbit. “Taika Waititi dressed up as Hitler, poking fun at the Third Reich…” was the elevator pitch from friends. Well, colour me interested.
Like so many films (and books, and audios, and albums, etc), it was one of those entertainments I definitely liked the look of, but never had time to catch. Even sometime in 2020 when I saw someone had put the opening scene of the film on YouTube – a glorious mash-up of The Beatles doing their German take of I Want to Hold Your Hand, aka Komm gib mir deine Hand, over footage of screaming German girls welcoming Hitler in newsreel footage – I was telling myself I had to see it, but still wasn’t taking the final step. I’m sure we all have films like that in our lives that we keep meaning to see.
All of that changed today however and… wow, what a film. As I messaged my work bestie as soon as it finished, it’s something that has completely goofy humour (that mash-up with The Beatles was only the start), which is obviously super-appealing and a great way to poke fun at anything. Yet it also has much darker tones. Reasonably early in the film you go from some totally silly stuff one moment to a village square where some men and women have been hung. A real record scratch moment. But then it’s back to the goofiness again. The film flip-flops throughout and it’s so finely balanced and well done, it’s a credit to the writing, direction, and editing. It’s amazingly coherent, despite its tonal shifts.
Young English actor, Roman Griffin Davis, smashes it out of the park as the titular Jojo and carries the film effortlessly, which is no mean feat when he’s got Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson really going for it right behind him (albeit in very different ways to each other), not to mention Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant just stealing scenes in smaller roles. Of course, Waititi’s Hitler is delicious as well, switching from Jojo’s best imaginary friend to something incredibly sinister by the end of the film as Jojo slowly falls out of love with Nazism, swastikas, the Reich, and the whole nine yards of it all.
The treatment of the Jews during WW2 is at the heart of the film, and done in such a personal way, that it brings home the human cost of the Holocaust in a way that big numbers in history books often don’t. With Waititi growing up with his mother’s surname Cohen – and being part Jewish himself – I’d be fascinated to know more about his take on the source material (a 2008 book called Caging Skies), but my DVD had nothing in the way of extras. Nada. Zip. Not even a trailer, let alone any featurettes or commentaries. I’ll have to go searching because I think there might be an interesting background.
To say much more may start to give the game away and I never like to do that. This is a brilliantly written and directed piece, with great performances. Even Jojo’s friend Yorki, played by a young actor who’s absolutely not operating at the same level as Davis’ Jojo performance, is always a welcome delight any time be comes on. It’s just a great film. But please, I cannot underscore enough that there’s some real gut punches in this. Amid the humour there are some scenes that really affected me. Very tragic stuff. The kind of stuff that makes you think. The kind of stuff that has you reaching back into the WW2 history in your head and connecting the dots and just thinking, wow, we really don’t realise when we have life so good, compared to what people a mere 75 years ago were going through.