Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Jojo Rabbit - Review

An anti-hate satire. A tagline that seeks to alleviate the potential backlash before it ever starts, a strategy that’s only been slightly successful in the lead up to its release. The concerns are certainly valid, as in the wrong hands, Jojo Rabbit could go south very fast. Fortunately, Taika Waititi is at the helm. And a Taika Waititi helmed satire is a must see, but a Taika Waititi satire that makes fun of Nazis just might be the thing that 2019 needs.

Set during World War Two, an awkward young German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) whose only ally is his imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi) has his naïve patriotism tested when he meets a young girl (Thomasin McKenzie) who upends his world views.

How Taika Waititi manages to pull this high wire act of a film off is a mystery in and of itself. The entire film, almost start to finish, plays jump rope with its tone. One moment can be laugh out loud funny and the next could be a tension filled encounter, or a heartfelt moment, or even in one instance, emotionally devastating. And yet, it all works as a cohesive film that accomplishes its mission statement of being an anti-hate satire.

Waititi himself is no slouch either in front of the camera, and his Adolf character is a riot. With one foot in factual satire and the other in complete absurdity, Waititi delivers haymakers at the expense of one of the worst human beings to ever exist. But Waititi is still only a small piece of the cast, popping up in brief moments to give the main character a push or berate his life choices. The rest of the cast gets far more to do, and arguably, make up one of the better ensembles of the year.

Mocking Hitler is great and all, but it doesn’t provide the heart and emotion that Waititi’s filmography is known for by now. Those elements instead come from the trio of Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, and Thomasin McKenzie.

If it weren’t for Johansson having a ton of buzz for Marriage Story later this year, Jojo Rabbit may just have been her ticket into the Oscar conversation. Her motherly love and tenderness shine above the hatred happening all around her and her son Jojo, even if her quirkiness and joy is all a facade that Johansson lets slip in slight moments. And then there are the combination of McKenzie and Davis.

Audiences got a good look at Thomasin McKenzie in last year’s Leave No Trace and rightfully sang her praises to numerous young actress and breakthrough actress awards. It just so happens she may be acting across from a candidate for 2019 in Roman Griffin Davis. The two very much feel like part of a whole, dropped on either side of a conflict; one by choice, the other by force. The growth in their interactions from adversaries to friends to almost siblings is remarkable, and both McKenzie and Davis sell this relationship so well.

Jojo Rabbit is sort of an odd duck. It’s a World War II film that seems completely uninterested in delving into anything related to the actual war. There are lines here or there about the Germans losing, or Jojo’s young friend Yorki, played wonderfully by Archie Yates, being asked to fight in the Nazi’s dying, desperate days. For all intents and purposes, the film is far more concerned with looking at belief and indoctrination stemming from the desire to belong, and it’s where its importance to 2019 comes through.

Jojo doesn’t view the Nazis as the evil humans they are, because he doesn’t know any better. Instead, he looks up to them like a soccer team that he happens to be a fan of. He sports the uniform, has posters on his wall, and knows all the team chants, ready to impress the real Hitler should the time come. He was born into a violence, taught by his surroundings to hate and revile human beings based on lies, and desperate to belong to something. All of that sounds just about as relevant to 2019 as anything unfortunately.

Jojo Rabbit is a delicate balancing act of tone performed by Taika Waititi. It sets out to be a satire, tearing down the hateful individuals by portraying them as the fools that they are, but it also winds up having something to say about today as well. The cast is phenomenal from top to bottom, with Roman Griffin Davis emerging a new young talent and Thomasin McKenzie proving that she is, in fact, the real deal. Misplaced backlash aside, it’s hard to not fall in love with what Waititi has crafted here: a tearing down of evil and a lesson in how children learn to hate.

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