Jojo Rabbit

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Jojo Rabbit
dir-scr Taika Waititi
prd Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley
with Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates, Luke Brandon Field, Sam Haygarth, Joseph Weintraub
release US 18.Oct.19,
UK 3.Jan.20
19/Czech Republic Fox 1h48

mckenzie rockwell wilson
london film fest

davis, waititi and johansson
Making a comedy about Nazis may be rather risky, but actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi strikes a clever balance between silliness and sadness with this provocative coming-of-age tale. The film is solidly well-made, with a terrific cast of comical geniuses romping through the scenery. So while the mood change from wacky to serious feels abrupt, the central story's pathos strikes a chord.
At 10, Jojo (Davis) relies on his mother (Johanson) to tie his shoes as he and best pal Yorki (Yates) head to a Hitler Youth weekend led by Captain Klenzendorf (Rockwell) and his nutty sidekicks (Wilson and Allen). When the older kids test Jojo's willingness to kill, they nickname him "rabbit". But his dedication to his imaginary friend, the fuhrer himself (Waititi), never wavers. Back home, Jojo discovers that his mother has hidden Jewish teen Elsa (McKenzie) behind a wall. And she doesn't seem nearly as monstrous as the Jews he's been taught to fear.
The film is an unsubtle pastiche of blind fanaticism, poking fun at people who follow a cause without thinking it through or checking the facts. There's a lot of rousing talk about killing anyone who doesn't look like us, accompanied by endless heil-Hitlering. This may be daft, but it makes a barbed point about how easily people believe anything that supports their preconceptions and prejudices. More challenging is the massive shift when the story changes from a light-hearted spoof into a wrenchingly dark drama.

At the centre of virtually every scene, Davis is a terrific young lead, bridging the film's sometimes jarring tonal changes. He's a sharply intelligent bundle of energy, so it's fairly clear that he'll learn the huge lessons the script is piling on him. And his emotional transparency makes him loveable. Johansson brings some offhanded spark to her role, and McKenzie adds several thoughtful, playful edges to Elsa. The riotous surrounding cast is basically around to add laughs, but some of them get to offer pointed emotions as well.

There's definitely a sense that this film is designed to help wake up people who are unknowingly following a lying leader down the wrong rabbit hole, as it were. And yet it's the kind of boldly wacky arthouse movie that is likely to appeal only to audiences who are already awake to issues like immigration and gun control, both of which are in the subtext here. So perhaps Waititi is preaching to the choir. But it's a wonderfully delivered sermon.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall