Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★★

Taika Waititi's work has always won me over. Not to say his films are without blemish or inconsistencies here and there, but his humour alone makes him a fresh cinematic voice. He does not need comedians or comedic actors to deliver his laughs; his humor writing avoids common traps such as potty humor, insult humor, sex humor just for the sake of their own taboos. His hilarity, when it works, comes from a complete detail-oriented commitment to the joke and the full deadpan belief in the funny or bizarreness of the situation. And amid his comic tone, whatever his narrative is--vampire doc, orphan drama, super hero saga--he gets the job of the store done slickly.

But JOJO RABBIT may be his greatest triumph. His tone and deadpan zaniness prevents JOJO from truly being either a war film or a comedy, so it certainly fits the Waititi comedy-cross-genre niche--one of those films that naturally boggles the classification scheme at Golden Globes. However, this one goes far deeper than his previous films into the realm of human connection. Waititi effectively covers the horror of war themes and the World War II backdrop. The narrative covers these vibrantly, delivering the horrors of war and the hate of the Nazi regime. We've seen that stuff before, but not that I can recall through the eyes of a 10-year-old Hitler fanboy. JOJO RABBIT commandingly explores the impact that media and propoganda (and cult of personality for that matter) can have on a generation--particularly its youth. The 'monster' that is 'propoganda and promotion' becomes the 'monster' embedded in people's superego. The film's achievement is the stunning slow chiseling away of ideals and bad values by fact and by witnessed events. In doing so, Jojo slowly disconnect the admiration and fandom from loyalty and love. It's really a sweet film in this regard.

Despite the brilliantly written supporting characters (Scarlet Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchant), the film would fall apart without the naturalism of Roman Griffin Davis. This kid in the lead role embodies childhood chasteness and wonder, and for the audience he serves as a gateway that allows people to empathize with youth. Waititi undestands this well seeming to be a big child himself, but his direction of Davis allows the 10-year-old to embody this spirit of childhood. There isn't a whiff of amateurishness or any precociousness in the Jojo performance, which can often come with huge child roles such as this one. Davis plays Jojo joyously free and inhibitionless. He's a marvel. He captures all the fancifulness of childhood creativity and imaginative play--albeit with Hitler himself an imaginary friend. Jojo's exposure to the Nazi propoganda and messaging of the day has led him to a path of blind devotion and fanaticism to the Third Reich, which makes total sense from his perspective, as crazy as it appears to us watching.

JOJO RABBIT hits phenomenal emotional beats as preadolescence confronts maturity, as disinformation confronts truth, and as imagination confronts the processing of reality. Waititi has an offbeat way to deliver his own messaing, but he walks the tightrope between too serious and too silly just about perfectly. I would suggest the emotion of the final invasion's war scene is sacrificed slightly by some of Waititi's visual gags happening in the background. But this is the only misfire in the film's dynamic tone that comes to mind. Waititi even has control over the use of Rebel Wilson, whose traditional comic notes are boisterous, obnoxious slapstick. Here she's sedated somewhat and is a good fit for what's asked of her. JOJO RABBIT is too spry and visually uninterested in being a war film to be an actual war film. It's a character piece all the way, and Waititi's script beautifully fleshes out the character work before the cast came in to add an even further layer to the movie's sophistication, depth, and heart.

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