Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Taika Waititi | 1hr 48min

It takes a little while for the humour, sensitivity, and detail of Taika Waititi’s buffoonish Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit to settle in, but once it finds its footing, he effectively pinpoints and skewers the cowardice and superficiality of those hateful regimes which hide behind the trusting innocence of their children. This makes for a particularly effective blend with Waititi’s neatly-arranged, Wes-Anderson-inspired compositions, especially in the visual link back to the khaki utopia of Moonrise Kingdom. Small brown tents, scout uniforms, symmetrical compositions, and slow-motion carry through here into Jojo Rabbit, each of these stylistic elements serving to filter this rotten culture through the naïve eyes of a child.

A Wes Anderson-inspired composition, this could be from Moonrise Kingdom – if not for the swastika.

To dig further into this Anderson influence, there is even a touch of Fantastic Mr Fox in Scarlett Johansson’s characterisation of Rosie Betzler’s mouth click – an endearing sort of parental mannerism that holds little significance other than being a recurring, reassuring sign that everything is ok. In her stylish red-and-white shoes and wide-brimmed hat that sits high up on her head, she is set apart from the rest of Nazi Germany as a woman who refuses to fit into any subservient roles. She is maternal, yes, but not in the same way as someone like Fraulein Rahm, who just keeps pumping out babies to serve her nation. Instead, she shows her motherliness in the genuine care she shows towards her child, even in spite of his politics, as well as the example she sets in her self-confident individuality.

As Rosie Betzler, Scarlett Johansson has the charm and magnetism of a classic Hollywood actress, like an outspoken but graceful Marlene Dietrich type.

I still don’t believe every sketch in Jojo Rabbit hits the mark it is aiming for, most of all those concerning Rebel Wilson. It isn’t saying much that this is her best role to date, likely thanks to Waititi’s direction, although it is evident that she often tries to elevate her jokes above the rest of her dialogue. Waititi’s stupidly funny rendition of an imaginary Hitler does hit the mark in its broad mocking of the fascist leader’s cult of personality, but the comedy of this screenplay usually works best when the actors who are playing “real” characters elegantly understate their punchlines. It is evident that sophistication and cheek of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 black comedy To Be or Not To Be served as inspiration in Waititi’s screenplay, especially given the subject matter and nearly identical similarities between particular gags, and yet Lubitsch comes off slightly better here in landing each of his comedic beats a little more consistently.

Taika Waititi, a comedic force in front of and behind the camera, as well as a great eye for colour palettes and patterns.

As the film’s middle act moves into long stretches of conversation between Jojo and Elsa, the Jewish girl he finds hiding in his wall, the important pieces of character development which take place tend to play on rather repetitive emotional and comedic cues – Jojo making a ridiculous comment about Jews, Elsa teasing him for it, Jojo discovering a bit of her humanity, and the two growing closer. This isn’t to completely undermine the pathos of these scenes, because the poignancy that lies beneath them is indeed moving, but the impact is somewhat softened. 
With the bookends of German renditions of pop songs, Waititi musically paints out a social shift away from a culture not unlike the frenzied “Beatlemania” of the 60s and into the celebration of individuality that David Bowie became an icon for in the 70s. As Nazi Germany finally meets its end, Jojo can embrace a world that is calmer, more embracing of idiosyncrasies, and which gives him time outside of shouting slogans to think his own thoughts. Though Waititi’s fine balance of several disparate tones is occasionally tipped a little off-centre, there is no faulting this finale. At last, there is hope that Jojo will develop into a healthy, mature grownup.

Jojo Rabbit is available to stream on Disney Plus, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes and YouTube.

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