Jojo Rabbit has received a real mix of reviews, varying from one star to five.
The truth is, it’s a solid four-star film – pretty good, worth seeing, but nothing to get hot and bothered about either way.
Some critics have condemned Jojo Rabbit for failing to treat its subject matter with due seriousness. I disagree. It’s important to remember the film’s purpose as a satire.
With that in mind, Jojo Rabbit successfully and subtly transitions the tongue-in-cheek mood at the start of the film into something more salient.
Interestingly, it does this through the shifting prominence of Jojo’s (Roman Griffin Davis) imaginary friend Hitler, played by Taika Waititi, the film’s director.
The best parts of the comedy in this film aren’t from any of the jokes made, but from the utter surrealism of most scenes. This is personified by Waititi’s ridiculous Hitler, who is varyingly seen jumping alongside Jojo with his legs spread-eagled, tucked up in Jojo’s bed with his infamous moustache just poking out of the sheets, or swimming underwater in a full 1940s swimming outfit, cap with strap included. The wink to the audience that only us and Jojo can see him is enjoyable.
However, as the storyline progresses and becomes more serious – Jojo discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hidden in a fake wall of his mother’s bedroom, and his fanatical Nazism gets called into question as he befriends her – the comical Hitler fades. Whereas at the start, Jojo is rarely in a scene apart from his imaginary friend, once Elsa enters she replaces Hitler. His imaginary friend wanes for a real one and, as usual, there’s a play on the old heart-strings too.
That said, Jojo Rabbit should really be praised for its portrayal of Elsa. This is a good role for a girl – Elsa is not a passive or stereotyped young maiden in need of saving.
Through grit, wit and a good heart she saves herself – and it was great to see her give the little Nazi a good fright when Jojo first discovers her, stealing his own Hitler Youth issued knife to threaten him with. No Hollywood girl stereotyping here, and no forced romance to boot.
Honourable mentions should also go to Rebel Wilson (Fraulein Rahm), Scarlett Johansson (Rosie Betzler) and Sam Rockwell (Captain Klenzendorf). Rebel really made me laugh and highlighted the absurdity of the anti-Jewish propaganda of the Third Reich – in particular, there’s a fantastic scene next to a swimming pool where she explains how she knew a man who ruined his life through infidelity and substance abuse, all the fault of ‘evil mind-controlling Jews’.
Scarlett Johansson creates a wonderfully in-depth mother for Jojo, managing the difficult tasks of raising her fanatical son alone, hiding a young Jewish girl from the authorities and working for the Resistance. Some of the most poignant if obvious cinematography in the film also surrounds her (tip: look out for shoes).
Sam Rockwell also provides some great light relief for the film in his role as a semi-disgraced Nazi captain who tutors Jojo. Arguably, his re-imagined Nazi uniform is one of the best farcical moments in the film.
Ultimately, Jojo Rabbit is a lot of fun. It gives you the bread and butter of what you would want from this production – summed off in the ‘fuck off Hitler’ moment at the end.