JoJo Rabbit (2019) Film Review
Director: Taika Waititi
Release Date: 3 January 2020 (UK)
Our Rating: ★★★★
I know it is cardinal sin number one to go into a film with your mind already made up. Especially as someone who writes about them after. Sometimes, however, it’s unavoidable. I knew upon its announcement that I would like (love) JoJo Rabbit. As far as I’m concerned, Taika Waititi has the Midas touch. From back in the Eagle vs. Shark days, Waititi’s film making has long been individual and self-aware, and he has only gotten better with age. He’s like a fine, fine New Zealand wine.
Be the Rabbit
The subject matter of JoJo Rabbit raised a few eyebrows from the start, but never among those familiar with Waititi’s work. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to respond to anything Nazi-centric or Hitler-based with tight-lipped avoidance and discomfort. Don’t mention the war etc. A comedy? About the Hitler Youth? With an irreverent and farcical caricature of Hitler himself as an imaginary friend? It would sound in bad taste if it wasn’t for Waititi, a Polynesian Jewish man, involved in both an acting and directorial capacity.
With Waititi at the helm, there was little doubt in my mind that JoJo Rabbit would feature the deadpan wit and unexpected gut-punches that we have come to love from him. He did not disappoint. Not one bit.
Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit
Jojo Rabbit is a melodious homage to the plight of Europe’s Jewish population during WWII, shedding a hopeful light on the events that are normally documented in the most sombre way. While some of the tongue-in-cheek characters don’t necessarily land (Rebel Wilson, I’m looking at you, and ScarJo isn’t free from critique, either), there are some real diamonds in this film.
Roman Griffin Davis, our JoJo, deserves all the praise going for his performance. The sincerity in his innocence crosses over into misinformed maturity – and his handling of the subject matter was better than some adults’. Who said you shouldn’t work with kids? Thomasin McKenzie chalks up another stellar performance as Elsa Korr, the Jewish girl that JoJo’s mother, Rosie (ScarJo) is sheltering. McKenzie’s power comes most often in her silences, the beats between her words, and her reactions. It’s good stuff. We see these two young people grapple with the reality of the world around them. JoJo and Elsa, after everything, come together in the final scene to deliver a couple of my favourite minutes in film of the past year. Obviously, I cried.
The Mighty Rabbit
Throughout JoJo Rabbit, Waititi skips between soft nuance and in-your-face humour in a way few can pull off. This film is funny in a way that puts you in your place, with digs and slander so sharp and outright you feel like they are pointing directly at you and holding you accountable. We get to watch this film with the gift of hindsight – we have the luxury of distancing ourselves with “never again” and “you can’t believe it happened”. But there are agains, and it did, and it does – and Waititi does well to make us remember that in a time when we need to the most. That’s how you make the outrageous poignant.
It’s those heartfelt moments, and there are plenty of them, that stick with you long after you have finished JoJo Rabbit. We don’t do spoilers here, but you’ll know all the parts I mean. It’s in the details; the gritted teeth and breath before a greeting, the moments you see all the pennies drop, the moment you look a tiger in the eye, the shoes.
JoJo Rabbit is a film about humanity; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Such an obvious and brazen film could easily have come off as cheap and vulgar had anyone else been at the wheel. I’ve not stopped thinking about JoJo Rabbit since I came out of the cinema – and considering I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, that is testament to a fantastic film. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have, watch it again. I know I will.
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