BFI London Film Festival: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit
Jojo Rabbit
Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson
Screening at LFF October 5th, 6th and 7th 2019

by Alex Plant

Not every filmmaker would follow up a big blockbuster hit like Thor: Ragnarok with a movie as unconventional as Jojo Rabbit, let alone cast themselves as history’s greatest monster. But if there’s one thing that Taika Waititi has proved again and again it’s that he’s quite unlike most other filmmakers.

Jojo (Davis), like many young kids, has an imaginary friend. However, unlike most kids, Jojo’s imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (a never wackier Waititi). See, naive Jojo is a member of the Hitler Youth with fanatical devotion to the Fuhrer, who we meet in war torn Germany during the final days of the Second World War. His father, a suspected deserter, has been missing for two years, leaving him in the care of his mother, Rosie (Johansson). Upon discovering that Rosie has been hiding a jewish girl (McKenzie) in their crawlspace, Jojo is torn between his love for his mother and his loyalty to the third reich. If this sounds like a surprising set up for a comedy, then surely even more surprising is just how effective it is in its execution.

Waititi is probably the only person that could have gotten away with making this film, and the way he plays with wartime and Nazi iconography manages to consistently be both hilarious as well as shocking when it needs to be. Though based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit features the same heightened sense of reality present in Waititi’s New Zealand-set films. Despite its differences on the surface there is particular thematic overlap with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, with Jojo Rabbit feeling like the culmination of a trilogy that deals with childhood innocence, unconventional familial situations and power of a young imagination. Waititi’s ability to balance absurdist humour and heartbreaking poignancy has never felt more fully realised either, though this is in part to a string of memorable performances.

As demonstrated in both Wilderpeople and Boy, Waititi is positively Spielbergian in his ability to bring the absolute best out of child actors, and his work with Davis is no exception. The young actor appears in pretty much every single scene and holds his own amongst some excellent supporting players. Chief among them is Johansson, whose charisma is effortless and electric. Rockwell is also particularly enjoyable as the apathetic and unhinged captain in charge of a dwindling Hitler Youth. Also, Archie Yates’ impossibly cute Yorki is the perfect embodiment of pure-hearted youthful naivety.

Powerful, hilarious and heartbreaking. Jojo Rabbit is an excellent absurdist wartime comedy with an anti-hate message that feels particularly timely and solidifies Waititi’s reputation as one of the most exciting filmmakers of the 21st century.


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