The Movie Waffler London Film Festival 2019 Review - JOJO RABBIT | The Movie Waffler

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London Film Festival 2019 Review - JOJO RABBIT

jojo rabbit review
A young boy in Hitler's army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant

jojo rabbit poster



Many critics have written about the comparisons between Jojo Rabbit and Life is Beautiful, but Taiki Waititi’s "anti-hate satire" is just as indebted to panto and Patch Adams. That’s to say, it’s a rather unimpactful attempt at dealing with its serious subjects, and also not very funny, but it's not totally without merit. At worst, it still offers three top-drawer performances and a few good jokes.

Given the rise of Nazi sympathisers and actual swastika-bearers across the world in recent years, it feels a bit odd to be putting a humourous spin on such a subject but the writer/director completed his script way back in 2012, before the term 'alt-right' entered the popular lexicon. Plus, if there’s one filmmaker who could effectively lampoon the Third Reich, it’s Mr Waititi. Actually, that’s not true - I would have loved to see Chris Morris try his satirical hand at this adaptation of Christine Leunens’ actually serious novel 'Caging Skies'.

jojo rabbit review
It’s the height of the Second World War and a forlorn Hitler Youth, Johannes "Jojo" Beltzer (the fresh-faced Roman Griffin Davis, proving himself a phenomenal new talent), only wants to do one thing and that’s to be the best little Nazi possible. He’s guided by the hare-brained Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell fitting comfortably in the role of a doofus), who leads the young boys with his underlings Finkel (Alfie Allen), a compliantly silent type, and the coarse Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson).

[ READ MORE: London Film Festival 2019 Review - Waves ]

Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson demoing her sterling comic abilities), on the other hand, is the absolute sweetest, a loving mother with a warm, funny nature - how could Jojo feel lonely with such a presence in his household? But in their attic lies another presence, a Jewish girl named Elsa who’s being aided by Rosie, secretly a member of the Resistance herself.

jojo rabbit review
Elsa is played by Thomasin McKenzie, the breakout star of Debra Granik’s excellent Leave No Trace, and Waititi’s writing of her character is possibly the best part of the movie, forgoing the amateur default approach of making her a timid, soul-baring refugee and instead imbuing her with sarcastic, witty responses to Jojo’s ridiculous questions about Jews - in other words, Elsa’s characterisation is the most effective, pronounced attempt at satire.

[ READ MORE: London Film Festival 2019 Review - Deerskin ]

The protagonist is a blindly obedient nationalist, certainly a very real type of child who has grown up under the most harmful ideological influences. This type of persona could be the result of a prejudiced parent or a prejudiced hometown, and for Jojo it’s a whole prejudiced lifestyle expected from Germans in the early '40s. In fact, he even sees der FΓΌhrer (a pantomiming Waititi) as his imaginary friend.

jojo rabbit review
In a way, this film might play better for younger audiences considering it presents a decent amount of horror (including grim images of hanging bodies) alongside the benign slapstick and undemanding spoof of Hitler. The whimsical Wes Anderson aesthetic further supports the family-friendliness as does the choice of music, including a mushy use of David Bowie’s 'Heroes'. One of the cooler needle drops is a German cover of The Beatles’ 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' but I couldn’t help but remember when 2014 video game 'Wolfenstein: The New Order' did the Nazi reimagining of the Fab Four much better.

The subtext is that prejudice is taught, a behaviour that can be unlearned and corrected, as Jojo gets to know Elsa and learns the enlightening, groundbreaking lesson that she’s actually a human. The thing is, we all know who was on the right and wrong side of history back then so the message of "let's get to understand each other" is unchallenging. However - and I feel lazy for even typing this platitudinal sentiment - considering the state of the world today, we could really do with such a reminder.

Jojo Rabbit plays at the London Film Festival October 5th, 6th and 7th. It will be released in UK/ROI cinemas January 3rd, 2020.



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