Jojo Rabbit review: Misjudged
Ivan Radford | On 02, May 2020Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi
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You could easily think that Taika Waititi could do no wrong, but with Jojo Rabbit, alas, comes the first major misstep of his career.
A comedy set in the final days of WWII Germany, it follows Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young boy who has been raised as a member of the Nazi youth and who ardently believes everything he’s been told about Jews and the war – even though his mum’s (Scarlett Johansson) secretly hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic, taken in by his quietly radical mother (Scarlett Johansson).
If all of that sounds like a lot for a comedy to juggle, you’d be right. Waititi, who adapts his screenplay from Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, pieces these complex and conflicting ideas together with a streak of absurdist, brightly coloured comedy. The opening act, in particular, owes a lot to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, as it charts a burgeoning young maybe-romance and a training camp run by irresponsible leaders. Sam Rockwell as camp runner Captain Klenzendorf, Rebel Wilson as instructor Fräulein Rahm and Alfie Allen as Klezendorf’s number two, Finkel, are all having a lot of fun playing their roles as broadly and goofily as possible, but Taika’s attempt to balance those moods and his central topic never quite succeeds.
That struggle is epitomised by his own appearance as Adolf Hitler, who takes the form of an imaginary guardian angel for Jojo. Gurning, shouting, teasing and pleading, it’s a performance turned up to 11 that drowns out anything around it. Roman Griffin Davis is endearing as the naive brainwashed boy, and his fledgling friendship with Thomasin McKenzie’s likeable Elsa carries an important message of empathy and kindness, but it’s lost in the tonal crossfire, as is Johansson’s rebellious housewife, who is left hanging about in the background in an unconvincing manner. The result is well-intentioned but trivialises the seriousness of its own subject matter, never seeming sure whether Nazis should be treated as incompetent buffoons or as the inhuman force of destruction that they were – an unfunny, awkward attempt at satire that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to satirise.