Jojo Rabbit Movie Review
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates
Oscar Wins: Best Adapted Screenplay
Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Picture
“What if Wes Anderson made a Nazi comedy?” is a reasonable way to pitch Jojo Rabbit to someone interested in seeing it. Filled with everything you’ve never seen in a movie about World War II (beautiful cinematography, vibrant color pallets, likeable Nazi’s…), Jojo Rabbit is a satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (played by the freaking adorable Roman Griffin Davis in his film debut) who will stop at nothing to join Hitler’s Nazi regime. However, his world view is turned upside down when Jojo discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. With the help of his imaginary friend, one Adolf Hitler (played by writer/director Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism and endure the epic battle between what he has been taught and what he’s coming to discover on his own.
You guys, I really hate to say this…because I really wanted to love this movie – but I’m really torn on how I feel about it. Granted, this film is FAR from the disaster it could have been, considering the content, but I also feel like it just didn’t go far enough. Ironically, the “Hitler Comedy” played it too safe.
Here’s the thing. This movie is really two storylines in one. On the one hand, we have the whimsy, over-the-top comedic story of Jojo going to Nazi summer camp, where young boys learn how to throw grenades and girls learn the importance of having Aryan babies. It’s bright and satirical and completely ridiculous in every sense of the word…very Wes Anderson-y. This storyline also features Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as two camp leaders, both of whom are some of the most fascinating characters in this movie and, unfortunately, drastically underused. If Waititi stayed in this world the whole time, I think this movie would have been near flawless (minus Rebel Wilson, who I really can’t stand in anything anymore). This could have been a super dark comedy about the Hitler youth, “group-think” and those adorable childhood friendships Wes Anderson loves to bring to the big screen. In this world, an imaginary friend who takes on the form of Adolf Hitler is just weird enough to work, and even the inconsistent accents could be forgiven for the sake of imagination.
The problem is that this whimsical, fantastical story is contrasted with storyline number two – a much sadder, real-life narrative about a little boy who comes to discover that everything he’s been taught to believe is a lie. In this storyline, Jojo forms a relationship with a Jewish girl that completely changes who he is and what he believes. After being raised to believe that Jews were monsters with horns and tails, Jojo comes to realize that Elsa isn’t a monster at all, in fact, far from it. On its own, this would be a beautiful story about love and friendship, not unlike The Book Thief or Life is Beautiful…but as a contrast to the fantastical storyline above, this storyline felt completely out of place.
Now, I’m not saying it necessarily had to be one storyline or the other – I mean the whole parallel between the imaginary friend who is actually a monster and the girl he’s been told is a monster but is actually a friend is clever, but the comedy isn’t funny enough, nor is the emotional storyline sharp enough, to really hit the mark.