Review by Sean Boelman
Jojo Rabbit, loosely adapted by New Zealander filmmaker/comedian Taika Waititi from the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, is the type of movie that is undoubtedly going to turn heads. However, thanks to its heartwarming story told with a wicked and original sense of humor, this manages to be one of the year’s most refreshing films.
The film tells the story of a young boy in WWII Germany as he finds himself conflicted between his allegiance to his country and what he knows is right when he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. While the story holds few surprises, this is a story that has proven to be effective time and time again, and the unique perspective which Waititi brings to the script helps it stand out.
More so than any of Waititi’s other films, Jojo Rabbit leans heavily on slapstick humor to brighten its tone. There are some witty one-liners scattered throughout, though the film is at its funniest when its characters are thrown into an absolutely ridiculous situation that causes them to end up in some comedic hijinks.
That said, the biggest strength of the film is not in its comedy, but rather, in its ability to appeal to the emotions of the viewer. Films about the Holocaust have a tendency to be quite hard-hitting, and despite the bouncy and lighthearted tone that is dominant in this film, there are portions of the film that will effectively tug at the heart strings of most audience members.
The protagonist of the film is a very well-written and complex character. Some viewers may take issue with the fact that the film presents him as a sympathetic character despite his aggressive patriotism and Nazism in the beginning of the film, but the ultimate message of the film is that he was just a kid whose mind was being swayed by the people around him.
Roman Griffin Davis’s breakout turn is perhaps the single most impressive part of this film. The supporting cast that surrounds him is extremely talented, featuring Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and of course Waititi in hilarious roles, but the level of nuance that Davis is able to bring to the character, particularly for someone so young, is astonishing.
Visually, the film is highly stylized, containing much of the same bright and colorful cinematography and production design that defined Waititi’s other films, albeit applied to a historical setting. The humor of the script and the quirkiness of the visual style mesh very well together, creating an experience that is altogether very fun and joyous.
Though Jojo Rabbit understandably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those who are willing to read into Waititi’s message are sure to find this to be an effective tale of empathy. Waititi took a huge risk with this film, and it paid off massively.
Jojo Rabbit is now playing in theaters.