Tuesday, November 26, 2019

[Review] Jojo Rabbit

With two coming-of-age gems, a gut-busting vampire mockumentary, a blast of a Marvel blockbuster, and an episode of “The Mandalorian” under his belt, is there anything writer-director Taika Waititi can’t do? What about a Nazi-skewering movie where he suits up as Adolf Hitler?! That’s what he does with Jojo Rabbit, a uniquely irreverent comedy with a fluffy heart of gold. 

Meet Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old boy growing up in Nazi Germany. Despite the swastikas on his walls and his conversations with his imaginary friend Hitler (Waititi), it becomes quite clear that the misguided Jojo wouldn’t hurt a fly (and definitely not a rabbit). His ideals are challenged when he finds out that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic, and the two begin to form a reluctant friendship.

It’s bold. It’s hilarious. It’s sweet. It’s precious. It’s devastating. It’s hopeful. Waititi juggles a lot of different tones here, but he manages to pull it off without a pin hitting the ground. He finds comedy within the absurd, humanity within tragedy. The film is like a satire cartoon come to life. There’s funny and clever dialogue cannon-fired throughout, as well as a handful of powerful lines of anti-hate sentiment. “We’re just like you, but human.” What’s most impressive and endearing about this film is the way in which Waititi remarkably captures childlike innocence against a harrowing backdrop of war and propaganda. The picture is beautifully shot with crisp frames and touches of Wes Anderson-like playfulness. Whimsical elements flourish here and there, but Waititi never loses sight of the harsh reality at stake. 

The cast is absolutely terrific all-around. Scarlett Johansson is stellar as Jojo’s mother, and Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson are also great in their supporting roles. Waititi plays the imaginary version of Hitler with a smattering of buffoonery and kitsch. But it’s the kids who truly shine. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis gives a wonderful performance at the film’s emotional core, and Thomasin McKenzie is excellent as his foil. Archie Yates plays Jojo’s good best friend and he’s almost unbearably cute and bound to be a favorite.

On paper, Jojo Rabbit might seem awkward, risky, and maybe even head-scratching. On the screen, it becomes a tremendously affecting experience. The laughs come with tears, the joys come with pain. And it’s a spunky takedown of brainwashed hatred, blind worship, and hostile divisions. In the end, we must dance

* 9/10 *

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