Jojo Rabbit Movie Review
Jojo Rabbit stars Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, and Scarlett Johannson and was directed by Taika Waititi. It tells the story of Jojo, played by Roman Griffin Davis, who’s a wannabe member of the Hitler youth in Nazi Germany. After discovering a Jewish girl hiding in his house, he must come to terms with who he is and the current events of the world, aided by his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler, played by Taika Waititi. On paper, this is a movie that shouldn’t work. On film, it shouldn’t work either. Jojo Rabbit is about a member of the Hitler youth during World War II whose imaginary friend is Hitler. It sounds equal parts absurd and inappropriate, but it comes together in a way that’s surprisingly meaningful. Like any good satire, this movie is more than just a vehicle for making a mockery of something.
There’s a lot of humor, for sure, and this film is more of a comedy than anything else I guess, but it’s got a deeper, more heartfelt message within it as well. And I think that tonal mix is part of what helps make this film work. It provides the comedy and fun elements of a satire, but mixes in more serious and downbeat notes. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war or of Nazis in general and includes some gut-wrenching and heartbreaking elements. But, let’s talk about the comedy first.
It’s probably the biggest draw to this film for most people, but also the biggest source of controversy. Hitler isn’t exactly a figure that jumps to mind as a source of comedy and there are certainly many ways that that combination could end up coming across rather tasteless, but satires of Hitler and Nazis have been around since the 40s, so the concept isn’t entirely novel. But making Hitler the imaginary friend of a little boy who dreams of being a Nazi? Well, that is pretty novel. And like I said, it sounds like a terrible idea on paper, but it really works. Taika Waititi is very entertaining as the imaginary Hitler and I think the juvenile irreverence that comes from it is why it works.
This Hitler is the imaginary friend of a ten year old boy. So, he does and says things that a ten year old boy would do and say. It’s Jojo’s perception of Hitler, rather than actually Hitler, so it makes it easier to laugh at. I will say that the humor of that character started to waver for me towards the end, but I kinda think that was intentional and representative of Jojo’s character growth throughout the movie. Even beyond Waititi’s character, this film had a lot of humor. Quite a bit of it was very obviously satirical humor, but there was a decent amount of standard comedy as well.
The first act especially is very funny and the anachronistic German versions of bouncy pop rock songs like I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles gave the movie a very lighthearted feel initially. Despite these initial impressions or what the marketing may have implied, this isn’t just a lighthearted comedy and really doesn’t focus on imaginary Hitler all that much. It’s really about Jojo and his coming to terms with who he is and where he stands in life. Jojo Rabbit is a coming-of-age story above anything else. We see the circumstances Jojo exists in; the external governmental pressures he faces, the subtle internal influence his mom provides. And this movie gives us insight into how he deals with these things, like imagining Hitler is his friend.
He wants to be a part of something bigger than himself, but he’s only every been exposed to propaganda, so he doesn’t know anything else is even a possibility. And that’s why his meeting Elsa is such an important catalyst, not only for him but for the story. It pulls in so many of the key coming-of-age elements we expect: growth and understanding, friendship, empathy, realization and self-discovery. All things that take this movie and morph it into something more heartfelt and meaningful than you would ever expect. Roman Griffin Davis is definitely the stand-out actor in this movie for me. I know a lot of people are gonna be praising Taika Waititi’s performance ñ which was good ñ but Davis was in almost every single scene of this movie.
This was one of the best child performances I’ve seen in a long time, made all the more amazing by the fact that this was his first acting role. He’s funny, he’s endearing, and he’s able to get across the full range of emotions this film requires of him. Thomasin McKenzie is also really good as Elsa and has this interesting quality to her performance. She’s funny (in a more dry humor kinda way), but brings this emotionality to the role that vacillates between understandably vulnerable and almost apathetically assertive.
The other performance that really impressed me was Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother. Her role was pretty small, but very impactful on both Jojo and the story. I think she has some of the funniest lines and moments, but also some of the most meaningful as well. Jojo Rabbit is a movie that could’ve easily gone too far or approached the story in a far less effective way. But, fortunately, this film managed to find the right footing in order to deliver a story that was extremely funny, but also extremely heartfelt and meaningful too.
It’s not often that a movie can balance its tones quite this well and Jojo Rabbit was very effective at comedically tackling a tough subject in a tasteful way. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one has gotta be the story. I guess I don’t know exactly what I expected going into this movie, but I certainly didn’t anticipate a heartfelt coming-of-age story. But, that’s exactly what I got. Taking this kind of a story and setting it in Nazi Germany sounds like a really odd choice, but it works surprisingly well. The movie doesn’t just take a ìhe’s a kid, so he doesn’t know any betterî approach.
That could’ve been problematic. Instead, we get to see Jojo’s personal growth as he’s exposed to more truths and atrocities. It’s not a movie that makes excuses, it’s a movie that shows that change can happen if people are given enough information. The second pro is the humor. Again, on paper, a comedy about Nazis and Hitler sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. Even knowing that it’s gonna be approached in a satirical way doesn’t fully alleviate concerns. But, this movie really nailed the humor. At times, it’s irreverent and full-on satire. At other points, it incorporates situational humor or clever, witty dialogue.
The comedy’s never just one thing which keeps it interesting and entertaining at the same time. Plus, it never gets so overbearing that it takes away from the film’s deeper themes and messages. As far as cons go, my only real issue with the film was the over-the-top comedy in a few instances. So, by over-the-top, I don’t mean that it went too far in the context of the film, but rather that it just got too goofy at points.
Comedy is notoriously subjective, so the things that I think were a little too much, might’ve been perfectly funny to you. But there were just a few moments and few characters that went on with something just a little bit longer than they should’ve and lost the humor as a result. I’d say many of the scenes including Rebel Wilson’s character fall into this category for me. I’m gonna give Jojo Rabbit 4 out of 5 paws.
I would recommend Jojo Rabbit to anybody who likes satirical comedies or coming-of-age stories. The satire here is very obvious, but it’s done in a grounded enough way that it doesn’t feel like a slapstick parody of the thing being satirized. It’s got a lot of heart and much of that comes through as part of the movie’s central coming-of-age story.
The setting is a little different than normal, but it’s still got all the hallmarks of a coming-of-age film. If you liked Jojo Rabbit, I would recommend The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It’s definitely not a comedy, but touches on some very similar themes and focuses on a similar childhood relationship. If you want something a bit more lighthearted, you should check out The Great Dictator. It’s a Charlie Chaplin satirical comedy in which he plays dual roles: as the fascist dictator Adenoid Hynkel and as a persecuted Jewish barber. If the visual style was what really enticed you about this movie, I’d suggest you check out Moonrise Kingdom.
That film really showcases the Wes Anderson style that seems to have influenced this movie a bit, plus it’s another coming-of-age story that approaches the topic in an unusual way. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Jojo Rabbit? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite satire film? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.