People think satire is dead because most have forgotten how to truly appreciate it…
Really good and insightful comedy simply won’t be for everyone because it can’t be afraid to push a few buttons and make us laugh at some truly uncomfortable stuff. This is where Jojo Rabbit really hits the landing, as it gives us the serious moments inside the horrors of a war in its last legs through the prism of a gaze that belongs to a ten year old boy and it still manages to be inappropriate and funny as all hell at the same time.
A lonely German boy’s (Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo) world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.
Wrapped up in the frame work of a World War II story, JoJo Rabbit truly boils down to something that reminds us of something that even now in this day and age we have a tendency to forget about. It’s about the need to put humanity of the people next to us over any other kind of interests that we get distracted with on a daily basis.
Getting a film together that combines this kind of genuine emotion and drama in concert with sardonically not giving a fuck about what its audience thinks of it is such a master stroke that I don’t even know where to begin. Waititi’s razor sharp script both delights and challenges audiences as it rolls out and most importantly it takes risks that keeps us on the edge of our seat. We could be in the midst of campy comedic moments only to have the rug pulled out from under us with a joke that we know we shouldn’t be laughing at or with some genuine life or death human drama unfolding. Waititi keeps it all in such a delicate balance which makes for such a genuine and humanistic experience because we tend to forget that even in moments of stress and strife…there’s always a little room for some sarcasm to sneak in. It also makes the real case for the fact that it is inherent and even necessary for us as a species to have the capacity to ultimate forgive, even the worst of wrongs that come across our path.
There’s is the kind of emotional and social complexity running through this script that would make even the most stalwart of actors break a sweat and here it’s all deftly managed in the hands of a young and very talented leading man.
Roman Griffin Davis as young Jojo is an absolute star here in his first ever on screen role (much less leading one) and brings next to no life experience to the part…which ironically is EXACTLY what was needed. A more seasoned actor would have tried to bring more nuance to it all but instead Waititi directs him to essentially be the straight man throughout it all, and lets the others in his orbit hammer home not only the funny, but the genuine pathos about the kind of effect war will have on anyone. Meanwhile Waititi gives himself all the best lines as Jojo’s imaginary Hitler as he disarms the realities of the second world war and gives it all a genuine sardonic slant.
Adapted from the novel Caging Skies from author Christine Leunens, every character has some horror in them as well as some heart which really does encapsulate the human experience, particularly in times of war.
Scarlett Johansson carries a good chunk of the film with genuine emotional pain as well as movie star charm while Sam Rockwell adds a sardonically knowing wink to the camera every time things get a little serious while Thomasin McKenzie allows for a character that typically plays like a victim in these stories to have some genuine vigor to them. The ensemble is simply note perfect because everyone involved knows what kind of movie they are making; it’s also why it could very easily fly over the heads of a lot of audiences.
Is JoJo Rabbit a comedy? A war drama? A dark satire?… the answer is simply ‘yes’.
Jojo Rabbit is ultimately the cinematic embodiment of the human experience, because in life, even during its lowest moments we can never forget the need to experience it all. It’s in those moments that we allow ourselves to laugh about the pain, is where we learn to understand it, ultimately forgive it and help others do the same, which is really why we’re on this planet in the first place. To help each other make it a better place.