Thor Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi tackles Hitler youth in this ‘anti-hate satire’ that treads a very delicate line with his trademark panache, resulting in a deeply moving and simultaneously hilarious family film.
Passionate Hitler fan Jojo is brought to us in a remarkably mature performance from first time actor Roman Griffin Davis, who effortlessly matches Waititi’s own screen presence as his imaginary friend Adolf himself. A Hitler youth summer camp provides ample room for comedy from Sam Rockwell’s demoted Nazi captain alongside Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen and Pitch Perfect’s Rebel Wilson, but Jojo’s own wide-eyed sincerity dominates as he grapples with fitting in to what he’s sure is his place in the world.
The discovery that his mother, delicately played by Scarlett Johansson, is harbouring a Jewish girl turns that world on its head as Jojo figuratively grapples with the morality of the situation as well as literally grappling with Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace) in a fantastic sequence that uses classic horror film signals to convey both Jojo’s terror, and how ridiculous it ultimately is.
The child’s perspective allows a singular focus to the story, which makes it remarkably simple and effective. Some aspects are mocked by being made ridiculous – Waititi’s camp and shouty Hitler himself, and the regime sending indoctrinated ten year olds to fight – but it’s never without a deeply salient point underlying the joke. The real triumph of the film, however, is in its sure and unwavering moments of deep sincerity. The simple pleasure that people find in dancing when they can, the tenderness of tying a shoelace for someone precious, the great certainty that humans will tend towards goodness if given the chance.
Good people are granted complexity in this film while the truly evil are given no narrative weight at all, only comedy value. It’s the perfect tactic for a satire: to not lend any time at all to speechifying from the Nazis themselves, and instead direct all attention and care towards those whom are far more deserving: those who can learn better when given the chance.
The heart of the film is the growing friendship between Jojo and Elsa, and the brilliant work done by the two young actors allows the humanity to shine through and balances the often ridiculous humour to create a wonderfully clever feel-good film.
Jojo Rabbit arrives in UK cinemas 1 January 2019.