Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit
It has taken a while to get to our local screens, but Jojo Rabbit is worth the wait.
It is as bold as it is brilliant.
Films that combine humour and heart this well are rare.
Rarer still is being able to balance a fine line between potential bad taste and mawkishness. Making fascism funny is no mean feat.
New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi has taken the bold step to translate his Marvel success with Thor: Ragnarok (2017) into getting the green light for a concept that would usually be stuck on red at a major studio.
It is hard to imagine how many directors could get a comedy about a junior Nazi whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler off the ground.
Of that very short list, few could mix the necessary seriousness with the equally necessary levity and make a film so accessible to all ages.
Key to Jojo Rabbit's success is Waititi's skill at finding amazing young actors. (For further evidence, check out his marvellous Hunt For The Wilderpeople).
In Roman Griffin Davis, he has found a lead who can switch from naive to determined to wonderstruck – and keep up a Germanic lilt.
He has quite the connection with Scarlett Johansson, who continues her wonder year as his mother Rosie – something of a mysterious figure, raising her son without her husband (missing in the war) while trying to steer her son into thinking for himself and away from Nazi rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Sam Rockwell continues to corner the market in fascinating racists and bigots as a vain, war-wounded Nazi, Captain Klenzendorf. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones) is very funny in a near-silent role as the Captain's personal assisatant.
Klenzendorf is in charge of the town's Hitler Youth and it's here and with the townsfolk where that the laughs can be laced with darkness.
Waititi highlights just how easy it is to fall into fascism, especially with characters like Stephen Merchant's Gestapo officer showing the mundanity of evil. He may seem goofy but he also casually has ordinary people executed.
Even in a comedy, the herd mentality is chilling.
Equally chilling is that Jojo Rabbit has so much relevance in today's world.
Smartly, Waititi's turn as a petty and tantrum-prone Hitler does not dominate, leaving Roman and Thomasin McKenzie (as the Jewish girl he discovers hiding in his house) to take centre stage as they nervously circle each other, much to the chagrin of the imaginary pal.
But playing Hitler is just a side gig. Waititi's day job is as director and this is arguably his most accomplished film. Never flashy, his direction surreptitiously guides you, through framing and colour to pick up on certain notes. These notes then sneak up and hit you with huge impact.
It's not the first time that comedy has helped to sugar the most bitter pill.
This is a different kind of coming-of-age film that mixes the laughs with the occasional gut punch and yet is still utterly uplifting.
Once seen, never forgotten.
Had it been released just a few days earlier, I would have called it the best film of 2019. As it is, Jojo Rabbit sets an incredibly high bar for 2020 .
FILM: Jojo Rabbit
STARRING: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
THE SKINNY: At the tail end of World War II, 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Davis) is excited to join the Hitler Youth, especially as his imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi). But then he finds that a young Jewish girl (McKenzie) is hiding in his house.