JOJO RABBIT – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Roman Griffith Davis, Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), Sam Rockwell (Vice), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect), Alfie Allen (John Wick), Stephen Merchant (Portal 2), Archie Yates

Writer/Director: Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Release Date: 18th October (US), 1st January (UK)

We live in troubled times indeed, and what helps us more than anything to get through it all with our sanity intact is laughter. Whilst satire has thrived in recent years through sketch comedy and late night talk shows taking jabs at our socio-economic climate, films taking on the task have been a little fewer and far between. In walks Taika Waititi, fresh off a one-two-three punch of What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok, with what is essentially the greatest Mel Brooks film never made. It’s too easy to describe the premise of Jojo Rabbit and end up making it sounds distasteful, but the final product is far from that. On the contrary, it is a master class in taking a horrible tragedy and turning it into something beautiful.

Whilst Jojo Rabbit firmly plants itself within its period setting of Germany at the tail end of World War II, it does a fantastic job of contemporizing its story and themes. Right from its opening titles, which juxtaposes propaganda footage of Germans going crazy for Adolf Hitler to the tune of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles, it firmly makes a point that this more than just a piece of history. However, it is less a comment on fascism as a whole and more the effect it can have on family and a young person’s mind. It is at its core a coming-of-age film about being yourself and overcoming societal conformity, but with Nazis and Jewish refugees in place of the bullies and nerds, and with that collation comes the humour. Jojo Rabbit is a consistently witty and clever story, but it also knows when to take a step back from the comedy and showcase the true horror of its setting. It never attempts to sugarcoat the reality of history for too long, and those moments of genuine tragedy can be gut wrenching to the point of tears. It is the wake-up call this culture needs right now to remember where we have been and what we can try to do to prevent it, and is ultimately an optimistic story of a boy learning to question his beliefs and see the world for what it truly is and could be.

Waititi has already proven himself a remarkable director of child actors with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and with Jojo Rabbit he has fostered yet another great young star in Roman Griffith Davis as the titular cowardly Hitler Youth. He brings humour and relatability to Jojo, a character who could have too easily been portrayed as righteous or stupid, instead firmly framing his warped worldview as a manifestation of his fears and naivety. Through his performance, Davis makes clear that Jojo is not a bad person, but simply one who needs to learn more about himself and others. Opposite him as the fugitive hiding within his walls Elsa, Thomasin McKenzie continues to prove herself another actor to watch with her dry and world-weary young woman who has been forced to grow up too fast. Scarlett Johansson brings a different sense of humour to the story as Jojo’s mother, using her assertiveness and kind heart for both comedic and dramatic purposes to play the kind of mum any of us would be lucky to have.

Sam Rockwell gives a surprisingly understated performance as the disgraced Captain Klenzendorf, still infusing plenty of comedy whilst ultimately playing a graceless yet tragically human character. Archie Yates is easily the film’s breakout star as Jojo’s buddy Yorki, providing a mirror to Jojo’s own misguided beliefs, and the likes of Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant all bring strong performances in their more limited roles. Ultimately though, the director himself is the real scene-stealer, as Waititi himself takes on the role of Jojo’s imaginary friend…Adolf Hitler. Waititi brings much of the same sense of humour he’s brought to many of his other roles, but using that same flippant and laidback comedy whilst playing one of history’s greatest monsters is a tremendously comical middle finger to the real-life villain, and is far more of a nuanced and psychologically rich performance than a simple caricature.

The best way to describe the aesthetic of Jojo Rabbit is “toy box fascist”, as it takes horrendous Nazi imagery and paints it with an idealistic and bright colour palette. It never glosses over the real-life atrocities, but instead uses its twisted aesthetic to lampoon the subtle ridiculousness of fascist iconography. This carries over into the film’s costumes, which lie somewhere on the fine line between historically accurate and outfits from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Michael Giacchino provides a fantastic score as always, and the film’s frequent use of classic rock and pop tunes with German lyrics is a wonderfully quirky touch.

Jojo Rabbit is the movie this ailing world needs right now: a reminder that innocence and humanity can be found in the darkest of places. It is an excellent ridiculing of both the depravity and the machismo of the Nazi Party, and ultimately is a feel-good triumph about love overcoming hatred. It’s confirmation that Taika Waititi is far more than just a quirky clown who never takes anything seriously; he’s a nuanced and talented filmmaker with a unique voice and something to say. This isn’t a film that is immediately going to fix the world or deprogram every alt-right sadboy who happens to watch it, but I hope it leaves an impact and helps someone realise we are not in too dissimilar a situation right now…


Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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