Released: 26th December
Seen: 30th December
So… the Nazis are back. Do you remember them? God, you probably shouldn’t because we all agreed back around 1945 that Nazi’s sucked and anyone who does anything even remotely Nazi-like was a worthless piece of excrement that we didn’t have to listen to… then the world went freaking insane and now we have Nazis again and they’re out in the open like that’s in any way acceptable. I mean, it’s good that they’re open about it so we can punch them in the face but yeah, Nazis suck and no one should ever want to be one. There’s a controversial political statement, it’s bad that Nazis are still a thing. Maybe the problem was that we weren’t making enough fun of Nazi’s, there’s only so much Mel Brooks could do after all so it’s about time someone else made a movie that not only made fun of how stupid and ugly every single Nazi actually is… but damn it Taika, did you also have to make me cry like a child while you were doing it?
Jojo Rabbit is about a ten-year-old boy named Johannes Betzler, or Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) for short. Jojo is just like any other boy, specifically any other boy in 1940s Germany who is about to enlist in the Hitler Youth, along with his second-best friend Yorki (Archie Yates). Yorki is only the second-best friend because the best friend role is, obviously, saved for the fuehrer. Like all young boys, Jojo has an imaginary friend… unlike all young boys, Jojo’s imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) who is constantly encouraging Jojo to be even more of a nationalist and to hate the Jews even more than he already does, because Jojo is a Nazi and is, therefore, a bad person. It’s a shame that Jojo is a bad person because his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is a good person who wants the war to end and the Nazis to lose. She’d also really like to have her son back to the way he was before he fell in with the Nazis. Oh, and she also has hidden a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the wall of her daughter’s room and Jojo just found Elsa. Now Jojo must handle the knowledge that his mother is harbouring a Jewish girl and actually confront the evils of his nationalism head-on.
Let’s make no mistake about it, this film has something important to say and isn’t shy about it. There’s no subtlety in its message, racism and bigotry suck and if you engage in it you suck. From the moment the film starts it plays the Nazis exactly how they should be played, as buffoons who believed stupid things and did stupid shit for stupid reasons. Yes, they were evil monsters but they believed in stupid as hell things and this film isn’t ashamed to call them on it. But I know what you’re probably thinking “It’s easy to call out the original Nazis on their bullshit because most of them are dead” and that’s true, but then the film starts making it very clear it’s also going for the ones we have today (oh my god, we still have Nazis. I hate that I can type that and be accurate, but we do). While it’s using the 1940s setting and their old-time style of stupid racism, for the most part, a lot of what’s going on wouldn’t feel out of place today on some forum run by idiots who love frog memes. The humour works not only because Taika Waititi knows exactly how to craft a good joke but because so much of it feels relevant. It’s also pointed in just how it wants to call people out, subtlety works for most movies but this one is determined to make you notice that it’s being pointedly political about this. One of the best moments in the entire film is when Elsa calls Jojo out and reminds him that he’s just a kid who likes dressing up in a uniform and being in a club… something that probably applies to a disturbingly large number of current day Nazis.
So while you have that slightly depressing thought in your head, let’s talk about how this film isn’t content to just make you laugh but wants you to cry until your eyes hurt. This film isn’t pulling on heartstrings, it’s more like it’s tenderly massaging those heartstrings to lull you into a false sense of security before it rips your heartstrings out and garrottes you with them. For almost an hour you are laughing at the pure absurdity of the bad people you’re following, even getting hopeful because you’re watching a nationalist slowly losing his belief in nationalism. It’s funny and touching and sweet and then something happens that had me sobbing openly, covering my mouth in shock and whispering “No, Jojo, don’t” because Taika Waititi decided he’d like to knee me in the emotional testicles for a bit. Be well prepared for the film to pull that rug out from under you when you least expect it and to do it so perfectly that when they return to the comedy (and deliver the best line in cinema of the year, it’s one of the last lines of the film and you will know it when you hear it) you’re probably still going to be sobbing from what happened.
This is all because the actors involved are just game for everything and make every character immensely enjoyable (even the characters who are bad people because they’re Nazis). Roman Griffin Davis is such a great young actor that it’s stunning to find out that this is his first film. He manages to show the transformation from “I am a Nazi who believes in Nazi things” to “Oh… everything I knew was wrong” so perfectly that it’s amazing. He’s also so lucky that Thomasin McKenzie was his partner for most of the movie. Her entire role is to constantly call Jojo out on his bullshit and never let up on him for a second until he stops doing Nazi shit. You can see in her eyes how much it destroys her that the vilest Nazi she knows is a 10-year-old kid who she could take in a second (which she proves, repeatedly). She’s there to help the story, since her appearance is the central conflict for the main character, but she’s also such a strong character on her own who has no objection to calling Jojo an idiot for believing in stupid things. The absolute best of the entire cast though is easily Scarlett Johansson. She might’ve been amazing in Marriage Story, but this is the role she should be putting forward for awards season. Her performance is layered as hell, equal parts touching and hilarious. The scene where she plays both Jojo’s father and mother at the same time is a moment that anyone else would’ve been unable to pull off, but Scarlett does it so effortlessly that you’re laughing at the start and sniffling at the sweetness by the end. She is, truly, the element that makes this film go from being great to being perfect. The entire cast is great, I could effortlessly go through every cast member and praise each of their performances for several paragraphs but I’ve already gone on for a bit and I just want to get to the part where I demand you go see it.
This movie belongs up there with The Great Dictator and The Producers, great films that made fun of the absurdity of Nazis and bigotry in general. It’s funny, it’s heart-warming, it’s heartbreaking and it’s just better than it has any right to be. While there might be films I technically like more than this that came out this year (just wait for my best list coming out soon), this is the one that I feel is going to have the longest legs in terms of culture. It deserves to have a long life with people handing it around and laughing with it at the absurdity of bigotry. It’s the kind of film that someone needed to make and god damn I’m glad it was someone who wasn’t afraid to go all the way with it.