Taika Waititi has done it again. It’s no secret that the director/producer/actor/writer and overall wunderkind can give well known material a new, unexpected twist. This year, Waititi takes on a particularly tricky subject – World War 2 and Nazi Germany. Jojo Rabbit is not the first of its kind (after all, Inglorious Bastards won a number of internationally respectable awards just a decade ago) and it most certainly won’t be the last.
Jojo Rabbit follows a 10-year-old German boy named Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), Jojo for short, who is about to start training with the Hitler Youth to support his country in the ongoing War. As a proud nationalist he practises his “Heil Hitler” calls alongside his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi). But Jojo is a clumsy kid and injures himself with a grenade within the first week of training, ultimately disqualifying him from joining his friends in the army.
Instead, Jojo spends more time at home with his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). His life is turned upside down when Jojo discovers that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) is first perceived as a threat, but soon Jojo finds himself learning more about the girl hiding in his house. Encouraged by his friend Adolf, Jojo starts capturing the stories Elsa tells him about the Jewish race, whether false or accurate, in a book. With the War slowly coming to an end, Jojo begins questioning his beliefs and when tragedy strikes his loyalty to the Reich and his home country are tested.
On a personal level, films about the Third Reich and Nazi Germany can be hard to watch, especially because I have grown up in Germany. Even fifty years after the War, children in schools are constantly taught to harbour accelerated feelings of shame and guilt when it comes to the actions of our ancestors. The Second World War Is preferably never discussed, and can absolutely never be made fun of. Ever. Therefore, going into this film filled me with dread – laughing out loud about jokes about Hitler would certainly go against everything I was taught.
But Jojo Rabbit is filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud full-belly-laugh moments, so much so that after a while my mind started to settle. Particularly Waititi’s moments as the Führer himself are so humorous and dead-pan, it would be hard not to at least burst out with an involuntary chuckle. But it is Stephen Merchant that steals the show with just one scene in which he portrays a Gestapo officer searching Jojo’s house. Punchy lines and witty writing with an underlying devil-may-care attitude turn this film into a light-hearted satire.
Jojo Rabbit also features a number of tender moments, particularly between Jojo and his mother. Scarlett Johansson’s heart-warming performance as the loving mother with a dark secret is one to watch out for during this awards season (mark my words, there will be Best Supporting Actress nominations…), despite a rather cringe-worthy German accent. Sadly, the bad accent is an ongoing theme in the film, and particularly Rebel Wilson’s interpretation of a German nurse is simply dreadful.
Nonetheless,Jojo Rabbit is a film that can be enjoyed by all audiences, even the toughest of critics, ze Germans, and offers something for everyone: laughs, tears, a bit of romance, and – my personal favorite – a genuine and pure friendship between Jojo and his (second) best friend Yorki.
Jojo Rabbit will be released in the UK January 2020.
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