By this stage of his writing-directing career Taika Waititi can do little wrong. Off the back of the out-of-the-blue double success of What We Do In Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, not to mention some little movie about a god of thunder (Thor: Ragnarok), studios are presumably happy to throw money at any harebrained idea he has.
And his latest, Jojo Rabbit is, on paper at least, exactly that. A comedy about a Nazis Youth whose imagery friend is Hitler. Based on Christine Leunens novel Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit is a film that pokes fun at Nazi Germany the way Monty Python’s Life of Brian moked, well, Christianity. Naturally Nazis are an easier target than Jesus but making a comedy with Hitler playing a key role? Well, pull that off and you’re onto something special.
And special is exactly what Jojo Rabbit is. Waititi manages to somehow conduct a perfect balancing act of both mocking those who blindly follow a charismatic leader, yes make no mistakes you could easily substitute Hitler for a certain current world leader, and creating something heartfelt, poignant and moving in incredibly unexpected ways.
The first two acts are endlessly laugh-out-loud funny. Waititi saving much of the gags for his camp imagery Hitler, a man often out-thought by a child. He is brilliantly supported via the charms, grace and smile of Scarlett Johansson’s mother to Jojo and the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell, who plays one of cinema’s most increasingly loveable Nazis. But special mention should also go to Roman Griffin Davis in the title role and Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie. Both bring incredible warmth to their roles. Davis finds ways of making his blind dedication to The Fuhrer both endearing and terrifying in a naive way. McKenzie meanwhile demonstrates that she is destined to become an acting powerhouse. After the drama of Trace here she flexes comedic muscles with ease but manages to imbue her Elsa with a sense of mature understanding and inner strength.
By the time the third act roles around you’re not only invested in this mismatch of characters but hopelessly in love with them. In creating this Waititi allows himself to slip, almost seamlessly, into a more dramatic – although never losing sight of the laughs – tone. It comes with a bit of a lurch but does so in such a way as to create a lump in the throat rather than denying you have something in your eye.
A comedy about Nazi Germany through the eyes of a child shouldn’t be this funny, heartwarming or satisfyingly moving, yet that is exactly what Jojo Rabbit is. Like its protagonist, Jojo Rabbit isn’t perfect, gets things wrong but has its heart firmly in the right place.