It’s hard to imagine a film starring Hitler telling jokes being one of the most heartwarming films of 2019. Luckily for us all, in Taika Watiti’s hands Jojo Rabbit proves us wrong.
The film is equal parts funny, sweet and powerful, never failing to pack a punch when needed. Likewise, Watiti is able to fill even the darkest of moments with touches of absurdity. (Who wouldn’t want to wear feathers to war?) The careful curation and delicate touch is shown in one of the standout scenes, which involves chasing butterflies and shoes. To say more is to ruin the beauty of the moment.
Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo, a sweet and caring boy who just so happens to be obsessed with Hitler. His favourite past times include helping the Hitler youth, preparing for war and keeping an eye out for trouble. It could be a throwaway part in less careful hands, but through powerful direction, Davis gives a stellar performance. Through his portrayal, it’s easy to see how young boys and children became swept up with the Hitler youth movement, and the opening scenes at Nazi camp perfectly capture how the experience would look through the eyes of a child.
He lives with his mother played Scarlett Johansson in one of her best performances in years. Unlike her son, she doesn’t believe in the war and hopes the resistance will prevail. She’s gorgeous, caring, silly and powerful all at the same time. She’s utterly devoted to her son, but also happy to kick a commander in the crotch if it solves a problem. A supporter of the resistance, she is concerned about the propaganda Jojo has got caught up in. Her best moment is during a heartbreaking yet hilarious scene where when fighting with Jojo, she becomes his father – highlighting the loss in their lives from war.
Elsa, (Thomasin Mckenzie, Leave No Trace) is astonishing. Seething with quiet anger throughout the film, she never loses her dignity. The young girl befriends Jojo out of necessity to survive, but teaches him the power of friendship and to celebrate differences.
A lot has been said about Watiti’s use of Hitler as comedy, and his role in the film. The performance is brilliant and the comedy never abused or offensive, but Watiti also knows the notion of less is more. This is not Hitler’s film, this is not even a film about Hitler. This is a film about celebrating each others differences and finding comfort and hope even in the darkest moments.
A special shout out has to go to Jojo’s best friend Yorkie (Archie Yates). He may not be entirely sure about this whole war thing, but he’s happy to go along for the ride, whether that means heading off in to battle or shooting bazookas. Every second he is on screen is a delight through Yates’ earnest performance.
Though the premise is filled with contention, Jojo Rabbit is one of the best films on offer in 2019 and I was left beaming by the end, filled with love and hope.
Thank you little Jojo Rabbit.