Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson
Much has been made about what comedy “definitely cannot be made today,” which I find to be an asinine argument made by individuals that refuse to adapt. For all the talk of what comedy can be made in the year 2019, Taika Waititi created a Nazi satire, where he acts as Adolf Hitler. A bigger risk than any of those individuals would ever attempt. As much as I do appreciate the effort by Waititi, this film does not reach the heights of its potential.
Excited to be a Nazi and join the ranks of Adolf Hitler, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has a lovely mother (Scarlett Johansson) and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Trying to prove himself a proper Nazi, he discovers a Jewish girl hiding out in his home named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), who scares the life out of him based on the stereotypes he’s been fed about her people. Through these interactions, Jojo’s ideology is challenged as his perception of the Nazi party shifts.
At its very core, I adore what this film attempts to do. Its base message encourages to love your fellow human and to not buy into ideologies founded on hate. Satirizing the Nazi party proves to be a particularly timely task with the rise of Neo-nazi sympathizers making their voices more prevalent. A satire, however, requires funny jokes and Jojo Rabbit painfully lacked that for me. This may just be a personal taste issue, but none of the jokes really landed. Watching it with other moviegoers, who were cackling the whole way through left me baffled. It felt like I was watching a completely different film. It got to a point where I forced myself to chuckle at some of the jokes so I wasn’t the only one not laughing. It comes down to the screenplay adapted by Waititi. It lacks any real bite in its attempts to be funny. It walks the line of trying to be a story for kids mixed with elements for adults but it never meaningfully manifests into anything. It resulted in jokes that might go over the head of kids but far too simple at least for me. His portrayal of Hitler sought to demonstrate how extremely stupid his ideologies sound when said out loud, but the execution of it fell flat.
It’s very disappointing because I’m a huge fan of Taika Waititi’s New Zealand brand of humor. I have enjoyed all of his films from What We Do in the Shadows to Boy and even his entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok. His humor always lands even in his awkward debut feature Eagle vs. Shark. Unfortunately, after experiencing Jojo Rabbit, I have no choice but to state that in my estimation this satire ranks as his worst film. He’s typically exceptional at balancing the tone between comedy and heartbreaking drama but it felt incredibly abrupt in his latest film.
While the film did not succeed overall, there’s no denying that the performance by Roman Griffin Davis is spectacular for a kid at his age. He’s tasked to carry the film on his shoulders and does just that as he traverses the comedic and dramatic minefield laid out before him. At the age of 12, he put on a better performance than any of the veteran actors around him. Supporting Davis is Scarlett Johansson portraying Jojo’s mother, who quietly opposed the Nazi regime but needs to hide it from Jojo because he’s so amped to join the cause. For most of her performance, I was left confused about whether or not she was doing a french accent and if that was a purposeful decision. Then she started using more for a German later in the film. Scarlett’s character, Rosie, embodies the type of person trying to do the right thing during a horrible regime and the lessons she teaches Jojo are integral to the overall message of the story.
Conceptually, I love that this film exists because it shows that comedy stands strong and still pushes the boundary. Jojo Rabbit has a pure message and can easily be shown to kids wanting to learn about being kind to others. The story explores that this hateful ideology seems appealing to these kids because it’s all they know. The way it deconstructs those ideas admittedly does work and serves as the highest point for this film. The rest, however, was incredibly disappointing because I wanted to laugh, but I found the attempts ineffective. Let’s toss it up to it not being for me, as there are plenty of people that adore this film and are wrapped up in its beautiful message. Perhaps I’ll give another try but for this review, I just have my initial viewing experience where was I was let down by this heartful effort.