Movie Review | Jojo Rabbit
Movie summary: A young boy in Hitler's army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. (IMDb)
As a fan of Taika Waititi's work on What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok, I was hoping that Jojo Rabbit would meet the standards set by those movies and was unfortunately disappointed. That's not to say that this movie is poor by any definition, as that trio are a pretty high bar to clear, instead it's 'just' good rather than great.
The biggest issue is that a few too many scenes feel a little forced, practically ordering the audience to feel a certain way instead of letting it happen naturally. It's a shame because 90% of Jojo Rabbit brilliantly walks the line between comedy and drama without tipping too far one way or the other, but those moments that don't work really don't work.
Worst of all, to my incredible surprise, is Waititi himself as Jojo's imaginary friend, Adolf. Not only is he the goofiest character in the entire movie, but also the loudest, without a hint of any nuance or even any real comedic timing, which is bizarre for someone so good at generating natural-feeling humour as Waititi has proven to be in the past.
It's a good thing then that the movie centres around Jojo, played brilliantly by Roman Griffin Davis, and his relationship with the two women in his life at this point: his mother, Rosie, played by Scarlett Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie's Elsa, a Jewish fugitive that Rosie is hiding from the Nazis. The relationships between the three of them are the key things to concentrate on.
Jojo and Elsa have a love-hate relationship, starting very much in the 'hate' camp, but slowly growing more fond of each other as the movie progresses. Jojo and Rosie have a loving, if fractured, connection thanks to an absent father, plus Rosie's anti-war stance and Jojo's desperation to help his country triumph against their enemies.
Then there's the relationship between Rosie and Elsa, which is the most serious of the trio, with both women fully aware of how bad it would be for both of them if Elsa was to be discovered. If that wasn't enough, Elsa also reminds Rosie of her own lost daughter - something Jojo realises a little too late for comfort later in the movie.
There's also a lot to laugh at, including Sam Rockwell's flamboyant Captain Klenzendorf - "You can call me Captain K" - and Stephen Merchant's Gestapo officer, Deertz. Then again, the latter is also a part of what was the tensest moment of the movie for me, a brilliant scene filled with laughs set against the very real and terrifying knowledge of what the Gestapo would do to a Jew if they found them.
There are plenty of other moments like that, dramatic scenes punctured with laughter and comedic scenes containing real emotion, that it feels like such a disappointment when the movie slips up and goes too far off-course in either direction. It's not that it's poor editing or anything similar, just moments that feel like they belong to a different movie entirely.
I really wanted to love Jojo Rabbit, but I ended up only liking it. I know, harsh criticism, right? There's so much good here, it makes me actually want to see a straight-up World War Two drama from Waititi because I think this movie honestly captures how desperate things got during the war, especially for the Germans as the war drew to an end.
That isn't to sympathise with the Nazis either, I'm talking about the people who resisted like Rosie, or the young who were brainwashed like Jojo and his friend Yorki (Archie Yates) simply not knowing any better. Or the innocents like Elsa, whose life will never be the same again regardless of how long she lives thanks to the actions of others.
Jojo Rabbit is good, but not great. The narrative switches back and forth between drama and comedy well, even combining the two tones to excellent effect, but it does feel like the movie is trying a little too hard at times and ends up making some moments feel a little inauthentic. The cast are pretty much all great though, so most people should have a very good time with this movie.