‘Jojo Rabbit’ Film Review | TIFF 2019

Jojo Rabbit follows an ostracized German boy in the Hitler Youths named Jojo Betzler (played by Roman Griffin Davis) whose imaginary friend is an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Writer/Director Taika Waititi) at the height of World War 2 Nazi Germany.  When Jojo learns that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is secretly hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) he must decide whether to turn his back on his engrained Nazi beliefs or his own mother.  If that premise seems off, that is because to people who have never witnessed the war, it is.  However, its obscurity is what also makes it a highly comedic film with an important lesson on the dangers of unfettered belief and xenophobia.

The film is a satirical comedy, which not only makes for an enjoyable 148 minutes with a considerable amount of laughter but proves to be an introspective exposé on the horrors of the Second World War.  To a generation of people who have been far removed from the events of WW2, Jojo Rabbit’s setting seems like a bizarre fairytale.  Unfortunately, the political landscape of hatred and nationalism actually occurred in such an extreme (and terribly unfunny) fashion.  The instilment of Nazi values into the malleable minds of children did occur, often resulting in the arrest of parents by the hands of brainwashed children believing to be acting according to their civil duty.  Although the movie does make light of real occurrences like these, it does so with a sharp wit: constantly reminding the audience of the joke. 

Image via TIFF

The many outlandish characters (reminiscent of those found within a Wes Anderson film) keep the story spontaneous and exciting, but the relationships between Jojo, his mother and Elsa (the Jewish girl in hiding) are what keep the movie grounded.   Along with Waititi’s Hitler, these relationships are central in driving the story.  Johansson and Mckenzie reminds the audience of the remaining humanity left in an otherwise fanatical wartime Germany.  Waititi’s Hitler balances a playful mix of Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean, with the manipulative, persuasive, and charismatic historical Hitler for which the film’s character is based on. The film is rich in its depth of talented actors.  Sam Rockwell plays Captain Klenzendorf, a demoted Nazi soldier in charge of the Hitler Youth Training Camp Jojo attends.  The demoted Captain acts as a personification of Germany’s eroding Third Reich and the people who became disillusioned with the war.  Rebel Wilson plays Fräulein Rahm, who is largely insignificant to the story and superfluous, but she does provide added comic relief, which likely aide in transitioning that helps the story flow.  A usually funny Stephen Merchant plays Captain Deerttz, who is a menacing reminder that innocent people were hunted and displaced from their homes for their race and religion.  Merchant’s scenes were the most serious, but in these moments Waititi still finds a way to make the audience laugh when it seems least appropriate to. 

Although it is unlikely to get the same acclaim (and rightfully so I am afraid) as Roberto Benigni’s 1997, La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) – a film which one may be drawn to compare Jojo Rabbit with – it should surpass many people’s expectations.  A gripe some may have with the movie is that it seems too silly for the subject matter.  Where some may see this trait as a weakness, it can be seen as a strength in Waititi’s ability to recount history through a more approachable lens directed towards contemporary audiences.  The movie is not very subtle at all, in fact, it is very in your face about the absurdities of Nazi Germany.  The obvious nature of the film makes it fun, but not to the point where it takes away from the suspenseful, vulnerable, and sobering moments. 

Image via TIFF

Apart from its critiques of the political, this film also displays the horrible cultural and economic circumstances of the War.  An obvious use of nationalized antisemitism is a main driver behind the story and shows really just how bad the Nazi’s propaganda machine was with its awful depictions of Jewish People.  The economic disparity of World War 2 Europe is also displayed with the scarcity of food, being a subtle point from Johansson’s character’s actions.  The movie does not suffer a dearth of real moments which had this member of the audience grateful for the peaceful circumstances which he was born into. 

The film has a balanced mix of humorous and serious moments which are held harmoniously together by the mixed bag of characters.  The setting looks and feels authentic, the editing is spot-on, and the natural framing choices help tell the story from Jojo’s perspective without drawing any attention away from the plot.  Finally, it should be noted that from the beginning of the film, the music stands out in a way which helps establish the sentiment felt during each moment as the story progresses. 

Image via TIFF

In a time where everyone takes themselves a little too seriously, Jojo Rabbit helps demonstrate how absurd people can seem when one takes a step back from the animosity and political frustration so prevalent in the world.  All in all, it’s a film that is funny and thoughtful, stylish, and very original in its execution.

Rating: 8/10

Jojo Rabbit hits theatres on October 18, 2019.

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