“Jojo Rabbit” is more than a great film. It’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a hilariously dark comedy, and it is fully functional under both of those genres.
The film follows Jojo Betzler, a 10-year-old Hitler-youth and Nazi fanatic, and Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, played by Jewish director Taika Waititi. He lives in Germany near the end of World War II, and the coming of age story develops around Jojo’s gradual realization that the Nazis might not be the good guys after all.
Based on the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, the film is incredibly emotional, while still filled with the humor of comedy veteran Waititi. His other works, such as “Thor: Ragnarok” in particular, focused too heavily on comedic aspects and glossed over the important emotional details of the story. Waititi has evolved since then because “Jojo Rabbit” does not fall into the same trap. It is raucously funny in one moment, then bring-you-to-tears deep in the next. The full emotional weight of each event is felt through Waititi’s ingenious writing and Mihai Mălaimare Jr.’s beautiful cinematography, and this emotional weight makes the film a stellar drama as well as a brilliant dark comedy.
The cinematography itself is stunning, reminiscent at times of Wes Anderson’s films. Mălaimare’s shots are extremely well composed, and the camera fully lends itself to the emotion of the story.
The acting is phenomenal. Despite the lack of authentic German accents in the movie, the actors all play their parts admirably. Each one is more than capable of keeping up with the rapid shifts from funny to serious then back again. Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo in his first ever onscreen role and has the most screen time among his co-stars. He carries the time well, effectively injecting the story with both a child’s wonder and a child’s pain. Director Waititi was also in fine form as Hitler, bringing a unique petty and petulant attitude to the leader of the Nazis. He starts the film as a sympathetic friend to Jojo, but brings out his true colors as the film progresses and Jojo comes to see the truth.
Scarlett Johansson is brilliant as Jojo’s mother, and her glowing presence positively lights up every scene she’s in. Sam Rockwell is a delight as the sympathetic Captain K, who was unfortunately removed from the front after a preventable accident in which he lost an eye. Thomasin McKenzie brings beauty and sadness beyond her years into her magnificent performance as Elsa, a Jewish girl hiding in the walls of Jojo’s house. And last but not least, Archie Yates is utterly perfect in all his deliveries as Yorkie, Jojo’s young friend who gets conscripted to fight for the Nazis and has far too little screen time.
The film is incredibly cohesive, planting seeds and symbolism at the beginning that are brought back to devastating effect near the end. One of the most potent examples is the film’s use of shoes. Another is the prevalence of little phrases like “doing what you can.” This film may seem like one you don’t have to pay close attention to, but Waititi packs its one-hour 48-minute runtime full of meaning and subtlety.
“Jojo Rabbit” is an excellent film, possibly one of the best movies of the year. The story is moving, the comedy is hilarious, the symbols and themes are wonderfully defined. “Jojo Rabbit” is Waititi’s masterpiece.