Its approach to interpreting one of the darkest chapters of 20th century history has a whiff of callous innocence, but it ultimately gives way to a heartwarming if idiosyncratic satire on the need for human empathy.
Dir. Taika Waititi
2019 | Czech Republic/New Zealand | Comedy/Drama/War | 108 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell
Plot: A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Awards: Won People’s Choice Award (Toronto); Won 1 Oscar – Best Adapted Screenplay & Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: The Projector – Preview
Critically, this has been a rather divisive film to start with, but its People’s Choice Award win at Toronto seems to suggest that it might be more accessible to mainstream audiences than previously thought. And indeed, this is true in what is a fairly entertaining new work by Thor: Ragnarok (2017) director Taika Waititi.
The filmmaker combines the zany spirit of the Marvel movie with his skills directing child actors (see his 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to deliver an original take on one of the darkest chapters of 20th century history—the rise of Nazism and persecution of Jews.
The fact that Waititi plays Adolf Hitler (or least a restless boy’s amusing imagination of him) already tells us so much about the film’s playful if irreverent tone.
“You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a ten-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”
There is a whiff of callous innocence to the whole spectacle, particularly its opening scenes which are best described as Nazi youth wing meets Wes Anderson-styled Moonrise Kingdom boot camp.
In this regard, while fairly accessible, Jojo Rabbit is best appreciated by moviegoers with a casual sense of humour accompanied by a clear knowledge of historical context.
But I fear that many would just see it as merely entertainment (as it has been marketed), rather than a satire, albeit a rather idiosyncratic if heartwarming one about the need for human empathy.
Look out for an extraordinary child performance by Roman Griffin Davis in his first acting role that earned him a Best Leading Actor nomination at the 2020 Golden Globes.