Jojo Rabbit is Taika Waititi’s comedy drama centered around a 10 year old in the Hitler Youth who completely buys into the Nazi propaganda, to the point that his imaginary friend is Hitler, but is forced to question those beliefs when he discovers his mother is harbouring a Jewish girl, Elsa, in their house.
The film is based on Christine Leunens’ book Caging Skies, but Waititi’s decision to make it into a more comedic work, with the Nazis particularly being portrayed as comedic, is one that has come under some criticism. It is always going to be a hard balance to find, between treating the events of the second world war with a suitable level of respect, but wanting to mock the Nazis for what they believed. This isn’t always a balance that Jojo Rabbit manages to find, and it is certainly a stronger film in the more dramatic and emotional moments that we get to spend with Jojo, his mother, and Elsa.
This is bolstered by the terrific performances in the film, with Scarlett Johansson in particular garnering a lot of critical acclaim for her performance as Jojo’s mother Rosie. But the big standout for me was Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa. For a young actress, she plays the role with exceptional maturity, bringing out Elsa’s heart, her defiance, and her playful nature. This is a performance that would blow people away if it was from a bigger name or more established actor. She also has excellent chemistry with Roman Griffin Davis, who is fantastic in the film given that he’s only 12.
The one character that has gotten a lot of press is Taika Waititi playing Jojo’s imaginary friend version of Hitler. The trailers heavily played on this being a big comedic performance from Waititi, but in actual fact he didn’t feature in the film too heavily, with the majority of it appearing in the trailers. And this is kind of indicative of the humour in the film, there are the odd funny moment that wasn’t advertised, but not too many that landed in my screening, or other screenings that I’ve been told about. And that is going to be a big disappointment to many people because Jojo Rabbit has been sold on the comedy, and that really isn’t where its strengths lie.
But if you don’t go in with the expectation of this being as funny as Waititi’s previous films then there is some really good stuff in there, particularly a fantastic performance from Thomasin McKenzie.