Let’s take you back to secondary school. Back to those history lessons about the Second World War and Adolf Hitler.
You will experience the Second World War in a way you have never before thanks to “Jojo Rabbit”. Waititi handles the story of Hitler with such humour, talent, and sharpness that his latest movie becomes an instant classic.
Jonathan (Roman Griffin Davis) or ‘Jojo’ is a ten year old boy living in Germany during the ’40s. Like any young boy, he’s fascinated by the Führer and all he wants is to become Hitler’s bodyguard. All Jojo needs is courage, a strong stomach and being fearless.
Sadly, he doesn’t have those skills at all and that’s being proved during an accident at the training camp. Despite the catastrophic aftermath, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) sees some potential in Jojo (who now has a new nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’). He gives him smaller tasks such as putting up posters or starting to recruit new young people.
For Jojo, this seems like a step back but with the support of (imaginary) Hitler (Taika Waititi), he gets through it.
His life is about to change when he finds out that there’s a Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in the attic. Jojo is very hostile towards her at the beginning because of all the prejudices about Jewish people but once he gets to know Elsa and her history with his mother (Scarlett Johansson), he opens up to her.
The more they grow closer, the more Jojo is being torn apart between his adoration for Hitler (and what he stands for) and for the girl he’s liking very much. Will he choose a side or will he adopt a neutral position?
That Waititi has a very unique, quirky and colourful approach while making his films is something we already knew but with “Jojo Rabbit”, he confirms this again. Not only because of his own talent but because he can also count on a superb team.
His cast includes the likes of Johansson, Rockwell, and Rebel Wilson but we have no choice but to start with the superb Davis who makes his film debut with this movie. He just blew us away with his strong performance.
He’s extremely charismatic, sweet and lovely as the young boy who discovers what it’s like to have feelings for a girl. At the same time, he’s captivating, on-point and energetic as the dedicated warrior who wants to be Hitler’s bodyguard. Davis is also responsible for the most superb “fuck off” moment we’ve seen in a very long time.
The most hilarious scenes are the ones between him and Waititi as Hitler. Waititi is just incredibly funny, clever, witty and spot-on as the parody version of Hitler. While he plays the character with such dedication and passion, it’s a role that doesn’t take itself too serious (in a very good way).
Side by side with Davis, we see debutant Archie Yates as JoJo’s best friend Yorki. We would have loved to see a little bit more of him. Not only because the scenes between him and Davis are wonderful and show the potential of these two young actors but also because he brings such a comic aspect to this film.
Waititi isn’t the only A-lister who put on the uniform and the army boots. Nope, there’s the impeccable Rockwell (“Vice”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) as Klenzendorf. His charisma and craftsmanship bring the leadership, courage, and strictness of the Captain to the forefront. Underneath that rough tough appearance, there’s also some humour and love.
“Jojo Rabbit” isn’t just full of testosterone but also full of powerful women. We see Scarlett Johansson (“Isle Of Dogs”, “Ghost In The Shell”) as the loving and courageous mother who puts the lives of the others above hers.
Thanks to costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo (“Thor: Ragnarok”, “The Great Wall”), she looks stylish in every scene. While McKenzie (“The King”, “Leave No Trace”) joins “Jojo Rabbit” from halfway the film, she brings a lot of funny moments to it. The dialogue between her and Davis about the misconceptions about Jewish people are a pleasure to watch.
This movie can also count on the powerhouse Wilson (“The Hustle”, “Isn’t It Romantic”). She only has a handful of scenes as Fraulein Rahm but she performs them with her usual charm and goofy humour.
Waititi doesn’t only give the established actors the change to show their greatness but also allows upcoming talent to shine.
The fact that “Jojo Rabbit” handles World War II with tons of humour, has implications for the cinematography. The war is about dark times, bombs and death but the cinematography is anything but black.
It’s all about openness, brightness and vivid colours. Hearing songs such as “Heroes” from David Bowie and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from The Beatles in German is such a perfect fit for this film.
After the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was awarded multiple prizes and we’re pretty sure that number will grow even more once the film will be globally released. With “Jojo Rabbit” Waititi outclasses himself with a stunning, entertaining and strongly performed film.
(This film review was written as part of the BFI Film Festival coverage)