Jojo Rabbit (2019) movie review
Jojo Rabbit is a comedy set in World War II following a young boy in Hitler’s army who discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. Based on the novel by Christine Leunens, film is written and directed by Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and What We Do in the Shadows (2015) director Taika Waititi. Despite a mixed critical reception upon its premiere, the film has managed to pull strong audience reviews overall, which sets the film up as a prime audience contender for the 2019/2020 Oscar race, just like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) last year.
The reason I compare the film to Bohemian Rhapsody is because, in a lot of ways, the film actually reminds me of the Queen biopic. Not in story or style of course, but in terms of my likes and dislikes for the film. And while Jojo Rabbit is certainly a good movie, boasting very strong performances, a solid visual style and design, and some powerful moments, like Bohemian Rhapsody, the film also lacks depth and commitment to its story, missing the mark on being a truly bold and impactful film. Comparing it to a similar film however, Jojo Rabbit is just no Life is Beautiful (1997).
So right off the bat, one of the things that does really work well is the tone. With comedies that never take themselves seriously (to the detriment of Thor), Jojo Rabbit really nails its tone, laugh out loud hilarious of course, but it snaps into shape surprisingly snappily. In some instances, the film slowly transitions its tone, which works well! And at times, you get a bit of whiplash from it, but that also works! I don’t direct comedy very much (or very well), so I could try to explain how, but really, it’s both sidesplittingly funny, and captivatingly emotional at times. Honestly, Waititi’s mastery of tone is arguably better than Roberto Benigni’s!
Something that doesn’t work as well, which I suppose falls under tone and content, is the assertive social themes. What I mean by that, is that Jojo Rabbit has the most Heil Hitler’s I have ever seen in a movie, and a movie this controversial, featuring a comedic performance as Hitler, could have been way worse. The reason Life is Beautiful is such a well-known film is because it is so controversial! A Holocaust comedy? Yeah, that’s a bold way to get your story and themes across. Jojo Rabbit defiantly plays it safe though, offering very few moments to stir any provocative feelings. This was a disappointment for me because, with such a perfect tone, it could have been made better by making the audience feel an extra layer of guilty-pleasure for laughing not at, but with Nazi Germany. And it certainly isn’t because the film is trying to be anti-German. Waititi makes it clear that anti-Nazi and anti-German aren’t necessarily the same thing.
That brings me to the other element that I think doesn’t live up to the potential in this movie: The themes. Jojo Rabbit tackles a lot, and like Bohemian Rhapsody, it does it well enough to pass for effort. But everything feels very surface level simply because there is so much going on thematically. That is what really makes Life if Beautiful a wonderful film: it’s about life, and that’s the thematic center of the film. Jojo still manages some solid emotional pull more than once, and it is the reason I’d own this movie. However that comes across through the quality of the film and the dedicated actors bringing said themes to life, not necessarily the strength in the writing of said themes.
Now speaking of performers, everyone in this film does such an incredible job that is almost makes this movie blow right past the potential it sets out to do! Roman Griffin Davis does a remarkable job carrying the weight of being a Nazi in World War II and the lack of understanding that comes with that, as well as the changes in his character because of it! And he’s a kid. Similarly, Thomasin McKenzie was one of my Oscar picks last year for Leave No Trace (2018), and she was almost as good in Jojo Rabbit. Speaking of character change though, Taika Waititi and Sam Rockwell stole the show for me! Sam Rockwell manages one of the funniest performances in the film, but one often given enough room to become a good character. And Taika Waititi is absolutely hilarious as Adolf Hitler of course, but he manages a surprisingly good performance too, which I honestly wasn’t expecting from essentially the comic relief character. And the supporting cast (except Rebel Wilson playing German Rebel Wilson) is pretty solid too, with Stephen Merchant showing up and stealing the spotlight to a surprising degree of talent. However as amazing as everyone in this movie is, the Oscar nod should go to Scarlett Johansson as Rosie, Jojo’s mother. Johansson easily delivers the most charismatic and layered performance in the entire film, proudly balancing subtext and subtly in a way only an adult would get, as she is playing a mother dealing with the complex themes of the world around her, and keeping them from Jojo as best as she can. Honestly, she’s the Roberto Benigni of the film.
So while I could go on about the often inconsistent, but always motivated quality in the film, with strong editing, solid cinematography, and a very good Michael Giacchino score, I touched on the most important aspect I wanted to in this case. If you are someone who is more than content with the ideas presented in a theme rather than it diving in head-first into said ideas, you will love Jojo Rabbit! I honestly just wanted a little more out of it myself. The performances were incredible, and the tone was just impressively handled. So while I think I will grow to like the film more over time, right now, I’m still fresh off of Parasite, which to me is a much heavier Oscar contender. I promise I am not judging the film against other Oscar films, I just mean that I recently saw a smaller film really live up to its thematic potential. Jojo Rabbit is still really good, and definitely worth seeing though! 7/10
So Jojo Rabbit? Have you seen it? What did you think? And what is your favorite Nazi comedy? Wait, no. Probably maybe don’t answer that? Ah, what is your favorite Oscar contender this year? Yeah, that! Anyway, whatever your thoughts, be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know!
-review by Ryan Prince