UK Release Date: 3 January 2020
Director: Taiki Waititi
Opening Weekend Box Office Sales: $349,555 (5 theaters)
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Jojo Rabbit was one of many recent releases that I'd heard about long before I was able to see it for myself. In fact, after watching a multitude of trailers for Jojo, I was deeply concerned by the inherent nature of the film.
I was troubled by the idea that a cast full of so many actors and actresses I admired would agree to be part of a film which, at first glance, made a mockery of World War II and the suffering it caused. To tell the honest truth, I was uncertain whether a comical take on such a defining part of history could, or even should be enjoyed.
After weeks of refusal to "pay into a film which glorifies the war", I started seeing friends posting positive reviews about the film, many of whom were film fanatics and had a deep understanding of cinema and what it can be used to achieve. One of these reviews came from Tyrone Lewis, a huge film buff whose opinion I very much respect, who stated "Some people say comedy is hard nowadays and so much is off limits... f**k that. Watch this film. This film... did it in such an expert way."
I scolded myself for having judged a piece of art without having experienced it first-hand and, after these stern words with own subconscious, I spoke to my Mum about her on-the-surface opinions. When I found that they were much the same as my own, we decided to go down to the cinema together to see whether our doubts had any concrete foundations.
Within seconds of the feature starting, we were laughing out loud, uncontrollably, and so were the rest of the audience. Despite first feeling crass and inconsiderate for even daring to allow myself to see the funny side, by the tenth minute I had almost entirely forgotten why I had been doubtful about going. The comic timing was impeccable, the story-line was compelling and the characters that had been devised were not only diverse and fully fleshed, but had clearly utilised stereotypes just enough to assist the story arc, without jeapordising the originality of their personalities and personas.
Scarlett Johansson's role as a resistance-fighting mother of a 10-year-old Nazi son has many layers which are subtly unpicked through the subtext of the film. These mounting revelations lead to a shocking plot point which alters JoJo's entire attitudes to Nazism, and lands the audience in tears. Her desire to protect JoJo from the truth of her actions, whilst attempting to show support for his love of Nazism, indicates a beautiful yet difficult relationship between the mother and son. A relationship which, I believe, all parents can relate to on some level.
Roman Griffin Davis took on the role of 10 year-old Jojo Betzler who begins the film as a devout Nazi-in-training. With Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend, he attempts to impress the Fuhrer by voicing desires to kill the Jews and protect his country. Davis' performance, for the most part, is beautifully done. It's not easy for a young actor to take on such a large role in a film which is likely to be scrutinised so closely and yet, he pulled off an almost impeccable performance. The only aspect which let Davis down was his patchy-at-best depiction of his disability; after blowing himself up with a grenade, Jojo is supposed to be a 'scared monster' who 'can't walk properly'. Whilst the scaring is indeed prevalent for the remaining duration of the film thanks to the make-up team, Jojo's ability to walk fluctuates significantly. In some scenes, his limp is extremely pronounced whilst in others, he is seen to be running with no difficulty at all. Such a crucial part of the plot, in my eyes, should have been sustained much better than it was.
Taika Waititi's portrayal of Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, was one of the most inspired performances of the last decade. He is able to capture the essence of the man we know Hitler to be whilst still presenting him as in ignorant fool and, as a result, he comes across as nothing short of a joke. Waititi is careful to ensure that everything Hitler says throughout the film is clearly ridiculed, and childish; definitely not messages that should be believed in or shared. We forgive Jojo's fondness towards his imaginary version of Hitler as we are able to understand that this figment of his imagination is just as naive as he, himself, is. This clever scripting, paired with such flamboyant and, quite frankly, ridiculous acting allows us to enjoy the character of Hitler, whilst still hating him to his very core.
From humour to sorrow, then back to humour, JoJo Rabbit's plot remained insightful, captivating and unpredictable for the duration. It is no exaggeration to say that in all my years of cinema experiences, I have never heard a whole audience erupt with such enthusiastic, infectious laughter.
Tyrone was right - there seems to be so many topics off-limit to comedy these days. But, ultimately, JoJo proves there's only one attitude we can have towards that idea; fuck that.
What did you think of Jojo Rabbit? Let me know in the comments!
Peace and love,