Taika Waititi’s new feature is about as far removed from the comforts of Marvel world-building as you can get. Incredibly difficult to categorise, Jojo Rabbit is perhaps best described as a Nazi Germany satire that is most evidently indebted to Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The film is certainly not afraid to poke fun at its controversial topic and has inevitably elicited groans from certain film critics.
To be fair, I can see why a film as unapologetically OTT as Jojo Rabbit wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But to be offended by it misses its point. The film not only ridicules Adolf Hitler and his acolytes, it guffaws at the very notion of political propaganda – something which of course makes it a picture befitting of our times.
The story is seen through the eyes of the titular protagonist, played by the outstanding Roman Griffin Davis. Though an avid member of the Hitler Youth, the character is conflicted by an innate opposition to his party’s insatiable propensity for violence and the conflicting teachings of his liberal-leaning mother (played by Scarlett Johansson). This inner turmoil reaches boiling point when he discovers that said matriarch has been stowing away an orphaned Jewish girl (Thomasin Mackenzie).
The relationship Jojo develops with the hideaway allows him to gradually see the absurdity of Nazi ideology, despite the protestations of the imaginary Hitler he converses with on a daily basis (played with manic absurdity by Waititi himself). This arc positions the picture as a coming-of-age feature in a similar vein to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, meaning there is far more going on from a narrative perspective than initially meets the eye.
My main concern going into Jojo Rabbit is that it would inadvertently make light of the Jewish people’s plight during WWII. For all its entertainment value, I never felt Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds did the topic justice and I feared Waititi would wind up treading a similar path. However, he manages the balancing act well and there is plenty of genuinely affecting moments to go along with the LOLs.
For that, I think he ought to be applauded. Cinema is all the better for risk-taking filmmaking of this kind, especially when there is so much misery at hand in the real world.