Directed by Taika Waititi (known for Thor: Ragnarok), Jojo Rabbit is a quasi-dark comedy based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. Set in the later stages of World War II in Nazi Germany Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Beltzer) is a 10-year-old boy who has an imaginary friend in the form of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). After injuring himself with a grenade at a Hitler Youth event while attempting to prove he is not a “cowardly rabbit,” Jojo is unable to perform any military-related duties and is often forced to stay at home, where he discovers his mom (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), in their attic. Through the ensuing events Jojo comes to lose faith in Nazi ideology as he falls in love with Elsa.
Jojo Rabbit is primarily a comedy which utilizes the audience’s knowledge of WWII for comedic effect. In one scene, Hitler complains about how people said he was going to get everyone killed. The film also makes heavy use of dramatic irony throughout its runtime, which is just under two hours.
One Hitler Youth leader brags about how civilized the Germans are right before they go off to burn books. This highlights one of the film’s strengths: It expertly deconstructs and attacks the ideology of national socialism throughout by weaving these critiques into its narrative organically. The plot never grinds to a halt to bang the audience over the head with its message. It is a fine example of show-don’t-tell cinema.
Having a child actor as your lead can always be a risky move, given that they will typically not be as strong actors as adults. Davis impresses as the 10-year-old Jojo throughout the film, which is also greatly complemented by notable performances from the likes of Johansson and Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s character, Captain Klenzendorf, is essentially a washed-up professional who has been forced to mentor. Alfie Allen, who viewers may recognize as Theon Greyjoy from the Game of Thrones series, is also cast in this film in an incredibly minor role—as an assistant to Captain Klenzendorf. Some may wonder why the studio cast such a prolific actor in the obscure role, especially considering his handful of lines.
Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is neat and clean throughout. It incorporates shots designed to look like frames taken from authentic WWII-era film reels and includes actual segments of Nazi propaganda film. All of this works to expertly plant the audience in the time period. Additionally, Michael Giachino’s score is suburb and expertly captures the naivety of Jojo expertly while also bringing gravity and tension to the more intense moments of the narrative.
Clocking in at 1 hour and 48 minutes, Jojo Rabbit does feel like it goes on a little bit longer than it needed to with certain scenes that could have been shortened. Jojo having Hitler as an imaginary friend was a major point of this film’s premise, but Waititi’s Hitler is not in most of the film and does not contribute a lot to the narrative. Jojo Rabbit would have done well to incorporate more of Waititi’s comedic relief, as his unique childish take on Hitler was quite entertaining during the moments he was on screen.
Jojo Rabbit certainly has its flaws, but it also has a lot of heart. If a viewer goes in with some tempered expectations, then Jojo Rabbit can certainly be an enjoyable film, due to its dark humor and touching message.
Featured Image by Fox Searchlight Pictures