“So that was basically Inglorious Kingdom, right?” I overheard someone tell their friend as I left Cinema Imperial after last Sunday night’s screening of Taika Waititi’s (What we do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarock) latest project, the Nazi-buddy comedy Jojo Rabbit.
As I’ve thought about the film the past few days, I feel it’s the perfect way to explain this movie to people: It balances broad comedy and the (historically inaccurate) horrors of war like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds while also being a sweet coming of age story filled with fairy tale colours and hipstery music choices like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
The film tells the story of Johannes (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old boy living in World War Two era Germany. So much is Johannes indoctrinated in the Nazi propaganda machine that whenever he needs a good pep talk to get himself psyched up, he imagines the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi, who is a triple threat here as writer/director/actor) coming to give him some words of encouragement.
While it’s a little suspicious that Johannes would envision his hero to be this silly and effeminate, as a viewer you get it. If there’s anyone out there who deserves to be mocked and derided, it’s Adolph Hitler.
As we follow Johannes to Nazi youth camp, (where his instructors include Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson, who all deserve recognition for doing their best with very cartoonish, undeveloped characters) we see that as much as he protests that he’s “really into swastikas” he can’t murder a rabbit when asked. It’s very clear that Johannes, or “Jojo Rabbit” as he’s now called by his fellow Nazi youth campers, is never going to be the ruthless fascist he aspires to.
Johannes’ blind devotion to the cause gets even more muddled when he returns home and realizes that his eccentric mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who gives another amazing performance after last year’s Leave no Trace) in the walls of his dead sister’s bedroom. Talking with Elsa whenever Rosie is out of the house, Johannes comes to realize that all the stuff he’s heard about Jews is wrong. And maybe instead of being revered, Hitler should just fuck off?
Jojo Rabbit has received mixed reviews since premiering this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some people have said the film is not funny (which I vehemently disagree with, I thought it was hilarious) and that trying to make a coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany is problematic.
I do agree with that to some extent. The film definitely shows the horrors of war when it wants to, and then either avoids or over sentimentalizes other moments when it wants to focus on the comedy/coming-of-age bits.
But that still doesn’t dissuade me from recommending this film to people. In fact in many ways, I’d say it’s the Hitler buddy comedy you never knew you needed.
Jojo Rabbit has already played at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. But it’ll have a wide release in Montreal theatres this fall