October 8, 2019

VIFF 2019 | Taika Waititi Heils 'Jojo Rabbit' into Compassion

"What are you, a teardrop socialist?"
VIFF 2019—New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi reimagines the waning days of World War II in his take on a Hitler Youth comedy based on the 2008 novel Caging Skies by author Christine Leunens. Jojo Rabbit is a riotous, Nazi joke-filled "anti-hate satire" in the mold of the comedian's cannon of self-aware deadpan comedies.

Starring a coming-of-age Roman Griffin Davis as the hapless Johannes (aka Jojo), the ten-year-old is introduced as a fanatical Nazi loyalist so much so his imaginary friend is a twisted, sarcastic version of the F├╝hrer (played outrageously by Waititi himself). Set in a German village during the final days of WWII, Nazis and their kid counterparts engulfed in their orbit make for ripe material to the New Zealander's trademark brand of wild humour.

Not unlike the strangely comic setting of Hogan's Heroes, Waititi's cast makes the dark subject matter and wartime setting palatably light shining the ridiculousness of Nazi propaganda. Blonde bombshell Scarlett Johansson makes for the perfect Aryan specimen as Jojo's loving mother, Rosie, but her young family's history of Nazi resistance is unclear.

Jojo goes through the usual expected growing pains slowly realizing the realities of his upbringing and fatherland. Actress Thomasin McKenzie as a Jewish girl whom Jojo reluctantly befriends is among the film's many standouts balancing comedy and tragedy gracefully.

Roman Griffin Davis Taika Waititi | Jojo Rabbit

Sam Rockwell as another bumbling German officer kind of breezes through the comedy as a very familiar version of himself as a Nazi. However, Archie Yates as Jojo's lovingly chubby Hitler Youth cohort steals the film with his comic timing and delivery.

Waititi's cinematic polish feels like a mishmash of Moonrise Kingdom by way of his Boy set in Nazi Germany. The thinly-veiled contemporary commentary about misguided young men enraptured by fanaticism and propaganda wears its hopeful message of compassion on its sleeve for a feel-good allegory on the fallacy of organized hate-mongering.

Waititi makes Jojo Rabbit another one of his ultra-quirky comedies with cartoonish humour skewering the ignorant and powerful. His cast is sharp as ever and the jokes land with hearty laughs throughout, but somehow it feels slight without much deeper subtext beyond its easy satirically hateful targets. Nonetheless, there are less entertaining ways to spend nearly two hours than watching kids and Nazis do and say ridiculous things.

Jojo Rabbit screened at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

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