Fox Searchlight sets out to challenge the textbook coming-of-age story that has been told time and time again. Taking an unsavory stance upon its opening, the progression of Jojo Rabbit delightfully surprises with its message, but with a softer blow than what is anticipated by applying a playful attitude towards the Holocaust that doesn’t dismiss its historical significance.
Leeching off of the trauma of World War II, this is no Schindler’s List, nor can it compare to Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night.’ Centering around 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) and his internal struggle with the morality and ethics of being enlisted in Hitler’s army of young, impressionable Nazis, his voice of reason/imaginary friend is no other than Adolf Hitler. Jojo is in for a shock when he discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie,) in their attic. Taika Waititi questions how far he can push his boundaries from both behind and in front of the camera in this affirmed “anti-hate” satire.
Jojo’s morality is worn on his sleeve. His apprehension to adhere to the Nazi lifestyle forces him to stand out, and he replaces the red armband on his sleeve with his heart. The slow burn of his dilemma and political influence burden him with more weight than a ten-year-old should experience. His wide-eyed, skittish innocence feeds into his predicament present when deciding right from wrong, and he finds himself turning to Adolf for advice.
Waititi, both Polynesian and Jewish, takes a defying risk while presenting Hitler as a bumbling, buffoonish caricature. His overexaggerated, foolish personification deviates from the serious, rigid and vicious German dictator that is often portrayed in cinema. His mocking reenactment of the fuhrer is an enjoyable one, it’s a real shame that he isn’t included more in the key narrative. Not only is his inclusion so important, but the interpretation is also downright amusing, as his free-for-all frivolous perception can be relative to a similar theatrical take done by Charlie Chaplin or a sketch created by Monty Python.
Johansson shines amongst her supporting cast members. Her tenderness is tangible and concretes some of the most emotional scenes. Her motherly kindness bleeds from the heart and stitches the bond between Rosie, Jojo, and Elsa together. McKenzie’s exceptional middle ground of vulnerability and courage brings to the fore the emotion that Jojo Rabbit aims for. Sam Rockwell, though he may be typecasted as Captain Klenzendorf, delivers another satisfying performance. Rebel Wilson flaunts herself as an attention-seeking assistant in a role that flatters her well.
Humor, applied both as a defense mechanism and weaponized, is matter-of-fact, canny and cleverly timed enough to relieve any tension that begins to build upon itself, stopping the drama before it can come to a head, defusing strained situations with a laugh. This attentive comedy may not bring political turmoil to the surface, but loosely adapts Christine Leunens’ “Caging Skies” in vibrant, modern, very hipster fashion. It blanks on sinking into the attraction between Jojo and Elsa, leaving that potential at the door (or in this case, in the attic.) The cat-and-mouse teasing that Elsa and Jojo badger each other with is merely a glimpse at a deeper relationship.
It’s there, but much like Jojo is called ‘a scared rabbit,’ the biggest ‘scared rabbit’ is the abate sense of danger. The discomforts of warfare and genocide are whispered when they should be shouted. The potential to speak in volumes scratches the surface, but it’s a bit underwhelming on the intensity of the time period. Derision is undoubtedly present, but it isn’t as intense of a slap in the face as we are lead to believe.
Jojo Rabbit is benevolent, compassionate, and cries out for us to lead with our hearts. It serves as a greater advocate for empathy, asking us to simply be kind and to understand one another. Hate has no home in this warmhearted lampoon that is underscored and italicized with deeper meaning.
Verdict: 8.7/10 – Jojo Rabbit is an emotive, feel-good satire that entangles heart and humanity, even if it may strife on packing in intensity.