09th Jan2020

‘Jojo Rabbit’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates, Luke Brandon Field, Sam Haygarth, Joe Weintraub | Written and Directed by Taika Waititi

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Jojo Rabbit is a film I wanted to love, should have loved, needed to love, but somehow I just didn’t. The clash in style, tone and subject matter is all too much for Taika Waititi to handle, as this film flops out of his hands into a silly mess on the floor.

Taika Waititi is a director that I’ve come to love over the last 2 years. The first film of his I saw was, to my shame, his blockbuster debut into the MCU with Thor: Ragnarok, after that I managed to catch up on his previous work such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, both of which I loved. It was through these two films and his take on Thor that I realised his brilliance. So, of course going into Waititi’s newest film Jojo Rabbit I couldn’t wait to see what the director could do. I was made even more optimistic and excited by the films trailer, and when I read what the story followed. The story is that of a young boy named JoJo who loves everything about his country, most of all their leader, Hitler, who has now become JoJo’s best friend in the young boys mind. Armed with his imaginary friend Hitler, and a head full of nazi propaganda, Jojo sets out into the world, only to discover that his mother is hiding a jew in their attic. It sounds like it’s going to be a hard subject matter to tackle, mixing nazis with comedy, but it has been done before like in the 1967 film The Producers. Here, however, it just doesn’t quite work. In fact it doesn’t seem to work on any level with connecting to the audience or with making them laugh – well at least for the audience I was sat in, and for me personally.

I have seen that Jojo Rabbit has split many people, many love it and I can see why. There are smirk inducing moments, but only smirks, never mounting up to an actual laugh. There are also some heart warming moments and a part of me wanted to stay on these moments for longer, but instead we cut back to some slap stick comedy that just doesn’t feel right next to the scene we’ve just come from. It’s this clash of tone that is my biggest problem with the film, but I’ll come to that later. One stand out are the performances, Roman Griffin who plays Jojo is a breakthrough at the highest level, he has sunbeams bursting out of him and his scenes with Thomasin McKenzie who plays Elsa (the Jew hiding out in Jojo’s house). The two of them are the films highlight, it’s their performances and on screen chemistry that was easily the highlight of the film. Scarlett Johansson also turns in another great performance adding to her already impressive filmography. Everyone else also puts in a great performance as the dumb nazis, but that’s my other biggest problem with the film.

The film never seems like there is any real danger of any real threat, these are after all nazis, one of the greatest evils the world has ever seen, but they never seem that evil. Even the nazis that don’t interact with Jojo much are so dumb it’s mind blowing. I never once felt like any character was in danger or anything bad would happen, and when it finally did happen it felt like a cheap trick to try and get the audience to be moved. Granted this will work and it will effect a lot of audience members, some may even be reduced to tears, and I can see why. For me, however, I couldn’t help but feel that it just came out of nowhere, like it was begging for us to be moved when there was no real set up of this danger. Sam Rockwell even plays a nazi good guy, and Rebel Wilson plays the dumbest nazi you’ve ever seen. Even when Stephen Merchant shows up he’s just another joke. It’s these characters that are acting as jokes within the film, but we never see them as a real threat. The only real stakes involved are in the fact we know the history, but the film never sets anything up for itself, it doesn’t seem like it knows what it wants to be. One scene is comedy, one is a heartfelt drama, and for me the two never merged.

It’s such a shame to say this, I wanted to love Jojo Rabbit and in the end I didn’t even like it. I’ll still be there for Waititi’s next film, and hope he can once again capture the magic of his previous work as for me this just didn’t have it.

** 2/5

Jojo Rabbit is in cinemas now.

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