Carson Timar’s review published on Letterboxd:
Taika Waititi has very quickly become one of the more popular and exciting directors for the general public especially picking up steam after directing Thor: Ragnarok, but that was far from the beginning of his career. Taika Waititi has always been exciting and dynamic in smaller movies like Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Jojo Rabbit marked a very interesting new era for the director, with all this new attention on Taika I was extremely curious to see what an original smaller project like this would look like from him and turn out to be. From a plot perspective, there is no sign of slowing down from Taika, Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old boy living in the final years of World War II who has an intense love for the Nazi Party and wanting to fight for them even to the point where his imaginary friend is literally Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Where he has seemingly endless pride for his country and the nazi party the truth couldn't be further for his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) who is raising Jojo alone while his father fights in the war. Despite some tension between their political views Jojo and his mom have a close relationship but things get turned upside down when Jojo discovers a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) living in their walls and it turns out his mom is not only aware of Elsa but is trying to help her. Jojo has to battle his pride for the Nazi Party and his imaginary version of Adolf Hitler telling him that Elsa is a monster while also learning more and more about her which starts to make him see her as nothing more than a nice young girl.
From an initial glance, this doesn't really scream like a plot that would lend itself to a Taika Waititi style comedy but my god is this movie funny. Honestly, it is my fault to doubt Taika at this point, he has such a good handle on what is funny and where the perfect moments are to weave in jokes and hilarious bits of dialogue. It is one of the reasons I think the script for this film is so remarkable, not only are the jokes extremely clever and legitimately funny but they are handled so smartly. The same goes for the drama and emotion, sure it will have you crying with laughter but it also has some moments of intense feelings of anger and sadness. This movie catches you off guard with the comedy only to bring you right back down with the true horror of this time period. I know some were worried about taking a subject matter like this and trying to find humor in it and where that debate will still rage on well after this movie comes and goes I am happy to say that from my perspective this movie perfectly walks that fine line and never felt offensive or misleading with how it handled this subject matter. Even in the few moments where it tries to humanize some of those in the Nazi Party like with Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), they never forgive these characters for their actions and still clearly judge them. If anything the comedy and the humanization of some of these characters are showing that there still is humanity in this time period which is something normally overlooked. Sure these were trying times of suffering and pain but still, some people just need moments to dance to some music. These kids are still kids, these women are still women, and these men are still men. It doesn't make anyone better or worst per se but just adds depth to the suffering and anger you have for this situation.
No matter how solid a script is so much of the effectiveness of a film comes from the performances in it. This is the first film Roman Griffin Davis is in and I must say that he stole the show for me here. Where sadly I don't think he is going to get the widespread love young actors like Jacob Tremblay or Brooklynn Prince got for their roles in Room and The Florida Project I think he absolutely deserves it. He shows such a strong range of emotions and is such a great lense for the audience to follow this story through. Right beside him for a good amount of the film is Taika Waititi as his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler and quite honestly he is one of the highlights when it comes to the comedy of the film. Taika is so good at giving himself completely over to any role he is given and brings such a fire and charisma to this role. Both Scarlett Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie give some of the best supporting performances of the year. Out of the two Scarlett Johansson definitely has the smaller role of the two as Jojo's mom but she comes off as so genuine and sweet. Without getting into spoilers this character is one of the more emotionally impactful on the audience and so much of it comes out because of how sweet and strong Scarlett Johansson comes off. Thomasin McKenzie has a much quieter role filled with silent emotion and suffering but her friendship and chemistry with Roman Griffin Davis brings out the life behind her character and makes her feel alive which only adds to the pain her character puts on the audience as we see her suffering. Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Archie Yates all have extremely small roles with only a handful of scenes each but they all are so much fun and do stand out in the film with Sam Rockwell especially getting at least a bit of character development to also give the audience something to chew on when it comes to his character.
Where the film is deeply impactful and effective I will say that if there is one thing the film could grow on it is the relationships between the characters. Currently, at just around 108 minutes the film wears its runtime wonderfully but I do think it could have given 15-20 minutes more of runtime to build the relationships specifically in the triangle of Jojo, Rosie, and Elsa. Where the relationship between Jojo and his mom does get going and is a major point in the film especially in the beginning their relationship feels a bit too turbulent. They obviously don't see eye to eye due to their relationship with the Nazi Party but it gets to a point of disrespect and anger between the two that feels not only unnatural but considering how important their relationship is to the emotional core of the movie feels a bit unneeded. Like I said it does get going but I don't see why such a heated argument between the two was necessary, sure it leads to one of the best moments of the film but you easily could have gotten there while preserving that relationship between them. The little pieces between Rosie and Elsa is also really wonderful, Elsa is alone and looks up to Rosie as a role model as a strong woman who doesn't let anything break her and I wish we got more of that. We never really learn the relationship between them and I definitely think that could be expanded on. The last relationship that could use some work is the one between Jojo and Hitler, it is weird how little this aspect of the film actually matters until the very end where Hitler directly is able to confront Jojo questioning his loyalty. Before then it felt like a weird side plot that didn't really have a purpose and considering its such a headline point of this plot I wish they would have done more with it. To be fair none of these relationships actively hurt the film and all do eventually get going, but especially in the first half, I wish they would have handled these better and easily they all could have used a bit more time to develop them more.
Overall though walking out of Jojo Rabbit I couldn't help but do a little dance on the street, this movie is not only so funny and energizing but also has such a deep emotional impact that stays with you. With masterclass acting and a really well-crafted script, this movie easily is one of my favorites of the year. I absolutely am going to see this movie again once it releases to the public and I hope plenty go and see this. It is just so much fun and beautiful, this is a movie with an endless heart for its characters and like I said by the end all you want to do is dance, in relief that the horror is over if nothing else.