THE PLOT: Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a naïve young boy in Hitler’s army who begins to question his own blind nationalism when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.
REVIEW: Jojo Rabbit, the latest film from New Zealand director Taika Waititi, is a risky proposition – this is a satirical comedy set in Nazi Germany featuring a young boy whose imaginary friend is a goofy caricature of Hitler (played by Waititi himself). But fear not, because this film is an absolute delight, one that perfectly balances Waititi’s signature quirky humour with genuine heart and intelligence.
The film takes sharp aim at the hateful propaganda and ideologies promoted by the Nazi regime, showing how easily children absorb their ridiculous lies and bigoted stereotypes through the story of Jojo Betzler, a ten-year-old boy who is completely fanatical about Hitler – until he meets Elsa, the Jewish girl his mother is keeping hidden in their house. Through his growing friendship with her, Jojo starts to question all he’s been taught. This is reflected cleverly through the potentially one-note “Imaginary Hitler” character, who becomes less friendly and more menacing as Jojo matures and starts to reject the philosophies of the Nazis.
The entire ensemble, which includes Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell, is excellent, but the child actors really shine. Anyone who saw Leave No Trace will be unsurprised to hear that McKenzie is terrific, and Archie Yates is a hoot as Jojo’s adorable pal Yorkie. But above all, this movie belongs to Roman Griffin Davis, who delivers an extraordinary performance that nails every emotional and comedic beat. He’s a true find.
Waititi has always had a knack for balancing humour with heart, and this is on full display here. He wrings big laughs out of the idiocy of the Third Reich and their propaganda, but also pulls off a truly devastating moment of heartbreak in the third act.
Of course, Jojo Rabbit‘s irreverent and whimsical take on its themes will inevitably not work for everybody, but this hilarious and heartfelt satire is well worth checking out – especially for fans of Waititi’s previous work.
Like Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin before him, Taika Waititi has managed to wring laughs out of one of the darkest periods in world history – while balancing it out with enough heartfelt emotion and sharp satire to leave you with something to think about.