Wednesday 18 November 2020

Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

A coming of age fantasy adventure set at the end of World War Two, Jojo Rabbit is an inventive story of a child's awakening as the world crumbles.

As Berlin braces for a final battle towards the end of the war, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) turns ten and is eligible to join the Hitler youth. He fantasizes that Hitler (Taika Waititi) is his intermittent kooky companion. Jojo is the only surviving child of single mom Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who secretly advocates against the Nazi party. Jojo attends a training camp run by the cynical Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), where he learns he is not capable of violence and earns the nickname Jojo Rabbit.

But everything changes when Jojo stumbles upon Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl stashed by Rosie in a secret room within the walls of their house. Indoctrinated by anti-Jewish hatred Jojo is initially as shocked and hostile as a ten year old can be, but gradually the two start to communicate.

An irreverent satire with a warm heart, Jojo Rabbit bravely combines the violent death throes of a fascist regime with a tender story of a boy who may yet find salvation. Director Taika Waititi also co-produced and wrote the screenplay (in addition to playing Hitler), and with wicked humour and edgy encounters seeks the rebirth of the next generation from the ashes of disaster.

Visually, Waititi's aesthetic carries echoes of Wes Anderson's joyful symmetry and vivid colours, but with more perspective depth. Berlin is recreated as devoid of fighting-aged men, a city still spouting regime slogans while awaiting a doomsday fate.

A deft touch is required to tease laughs out of tragedy, and Waititi find the perfect balance. Moments of trauma are all around Jojo: anti-regime advocates are hung in the local square, mean looking dressed-in-black Jew hunters invade and search his house, and the final battle for Berlin features the needless slaughter of bumbling women, children and the elderly duped into a futile fight. The film not only finds the ludicrous underbelly of a world gone mad, but also provides young Jojo with a way out.

His evolving relationship with Elsa forms the warm heart of the story, and here Waititi excels in barbed exchanges puncturing a rotten regime's pitiful embrace of irrational hatred. Elsa emerges as not just a representative of all who suffered, but also a courageous defender of innocence and a harbinger of a different future, while drawing a path for Jojo to stay safe and survive the awful present.

The two young cast members accept the challenge of carrying the acting load. Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie are soulfully captivating as adults-in-the-making navigating their way in a reality ruined by their elders. Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and Rebel Wilson provide penetrating support.

Funny, profound, but most of all acerbic, Jojo Rabbit hops to brilliance.

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