If you had asked me before I went to see Taika Waititi’s latest film if it was possible to find comedy in a film about the Third Reich and the Holocaust I would have presumed the answer was no, for obvious reasons. I would have been wrong. Not only is Jojo Rabbit a film constantly contradicting the story it is telling with levity and heart but it is one that uses irony to not only make you laugh but open your eyes. That isn’t to say everything here works and sometimes it is impossible to ignore the jarring nature of this juxtaposition. That being said, for a film that has such lofty goals and grand ideals it leaps far more often than it stumbles.
Telling the story of 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who is living a sheltered existence in Nazi Germany towards the end of the war when he discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johanson) is hiding a young Jewish girl called Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. With the help of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi), he must decide if he is going to be a loyal nazi or protect his family.
Although this is quintessentially a film about combatting hate with openness and love, what stands out most about Jojo Rabbit and its collection of bizarre characters is their uniqueness. This isn’t a film full of normal people. Each has his or her own quirks and insecurities, the kind of things preyed upon. This is a story of singular people in a country trying to turn them all into sheep, the kind of people that don’t think for themselves.
Much like Waititi’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jojo is shot to highlight the surreal with moments feeling like they have been ripped out of a Wes Anderson film. Vivid and outlandish wide shots with an overabundance of colour breath life into an idolised world that doesn’t really exist. As the film grows darker Waititi never really adapts this style to shoot the differing tone and that is where his story runs into issues. A stark twist halfway through changes the trajectory of the tale making the comedy feel almost uncomfortable and unnecessary. Instead of using the same techniques to display a new normal, it sticks with the old one.
It seems that half the fun here is the people around Jojo and the bubble of safety he has enclosed himself in. When it bursts, the two warring realities don’t merge as one. Both admirable and impressive, Waititi has crafted something few would think of and even fewer would attempt and thanks to brilliant performances by Davis and McKenzie, an idea that shouldn’t work proves oddly loving. Both performers manage to embrace the contradictory nature of the film and their scenes together are like rocket fuel, propelling the story and Jojo’s journey.
While it would be easy to point out the inherent flaws here, Waititi has made a film aimed at celebrating what makes people great and despite some hard to ignore tonal issues, Jojo Rabbit is a film that revels in the good, vibrant and happy and that which makes us unique. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.