It really shouldn’t have worked. At all. But somehow, it does and we should all count the lucky stars we ever saw it and that we have been introduced to Taika Waititi and his crazy, barmy, brilliant wonder of a brain. A satirical comedy about war, politics, xenophobia, dictatorships and that guy with a strange moustache? Yep, sounds about right but you have to have a certain panache, a certain skill, a certain ballsiness to be able to even attempt such a thing, let alone pull it off with a delicacy and touching humour that the crazy New Zealander does here. There’s no-one like him and, in a cinema landscape where such things are a bit more of a luxury, we should all bow down before him.
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a young German boy who has become part of Hitler’s army in the closing stages of World War II. Living with his anti-war mother (Scarlett Johansson) whilst his father fights across Europe, Jojo is lost and confused and, like many kids of that age, he finds solace in an imaginary friend. Only his is the Fuhrer himself (Waititi), something both hugely comical and absolutely frightening, a situation exasperated even further when Jojo learns that his mother has been keeping a secret: she has been harbouring a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls of their home.
Thomasin McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis in the film JOJO RABBIT. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
If you’re wondering whether this all sounds a tad off-kilter, well you’ve only just scratched the surface but firmly embrace all of the eccentricities and Jojo Rabbit is an absolute gem of a film that does and says far more than it has any right too. Above all, this is an absurdist comedy, satirising and embracing the madness of the human condition and the whirlwind of childhood and finding your place, and while most ten-year-old’s imaginary friend is a genuine rabbit, Jojo’s is Hitler, not because he truly believes in his cause but because he is being included when he feels at his most lost, and vulnerable, something that rings horribly true in the real world right now and while Waititi steers clear of such themes a little here, there’s still a real desire to find the humanity in it all, something he does wonderfully.
At the centre of it all, his wildcard, is the majestic, thoughtful turn from Davis, his Jojo, who encapsulates everything about the film with his humour and energy beautifully played against his heartbreak and sadness. Like the movie, we should want to dislike a child who sees his way in the world in such dark avenues, but his warmth echoes the film’s and such is his young magnetism that you will wish you could spend more time with his wide-eyed giddiness. McKenzie, fresh off her own magnificent turn in last year’s Leave No Trace, is just as wonderful here as the “ghost in the walls” Elsa whilst Johansson and Sam Rockwell, as ever, excel in their supporting turns.
In a time when we all live in fear of our surroundings and the world we live in, films like Jojo Rabbit should serve as a timely reminder that the impact of such things can be devastating. That Taika Waititi has found humanity and sincerity at the heart of a story so steeped in tragedy, anger, hate and evil is astonishing and makes it a truly unique cinema experience.
Comedy, War, Drama | New Zealand, 2019 | 12A | 1st January 2020 (UK) | Fox Searchlight UK | Dir.Taika Waititi | Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson