Taika Waititi hits and misses in his absurdist comedy about a Hitler Youth recruit who finds himself questioning who he is when he happens upon a secret in his own home.
In his new movie "Jojo Rabbit", Waititi - known for his eccentric and genius humour in works like "What We Do In the Shadows" (2014), "Hunt for the Wilderpeople’" (2016), and "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) – shoots his shot at making fun of Nazis, illustrating the terrors of indoctrination while portraying the innocence, naivety, and mindless idolatry of a child through the perspective of Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, a ten-year-old who finds out his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl behind a faux-wall in his sister’s bedroom.
The narrative centres on a boy going through things any other child could have to go through: fitting in with the cool kids and talking to imaginary friends when that doesn’t work out. It just so happens that the cool kids he wants to be friends with are the Hitler Youths and that his imaginary friend/surrogate father-figure is a juvenile parody of Adolf Hitler, ironically portrayed by Waititi himself, a Polynesian Jewish man.
As concepts go, "Jojo Rabbit" appears to have great potential, but the movie fails to realise that potential to its fullest. As someone who believes in opening sequences as manuals for the rest of a movie, I regret that the first moments of Waititi’s satirical black comedy set the audience up with certain high expectations that it doesn’t always manage to meet. Juxtaposing documentary shots of national socialist sieg-heiling with a German cover of the Beatles’ "I Want To Hold Your Hand", the movie establishes a strong farcical tone and wit – a promise that, sadly, isn’t kept all the way through.
That being said, the sentiment was certainly there; Waititi does not lack heart and purpose. Despite the ‘political’ nature of its humour at times being either too mellow or too forced, "Jojo Rabbit" does find strength in the little things. For instance, the delicateness of its performances almost effortlessly carry the tonal shifts of the narrative trying to balance itself in face of the serious source material it covers. In moments where Waititi finds that equilibrium between slapstick and sentiment, whether that’s with something as delicate as the rhythmic tapping of a foot, the small lace bow on a red shoe, or the subtle promise of a soon-to-be dance, it becomes clear that the hints and traces of what makes us all human are what make the movie. Under the guise of the absurd, the movie might follow a conventional and predictable storyline, but Waititi adds bits of intimacy to it, vital to the experience of the movie as a whole.
Ultimately, after the jokes are toned down, the movie is about an unlikely friendship and about the beauty of interpersonal relationships that defy the inhumane environment they find themselves in – a message that will never lose its relevance and a memorandum of sorts for those who need to hear that sometimes freedom looks like the fulfilled desire of a pas de deux.
"Jojo Rabbit" opens in UK cinemas on January 1st 2020
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor
Watch us catch up with the cast and crew of Jojo Rabbit on the red carpet of The 63rd BFI London Film Festival below: