It is a bold move to make a comedy set in the war-torn Berlin of Hitler’s Germany. Even bolder to make one which touches upon The Holocaust and the brainwashing of children through the Hitler Youth. Luckily, Taika Waititi has a keen eye for comedy and finding the funny in places where there would usually be very little.
It also helps that this is a Nazi Germany seen through the eyes of a brainwashed Hitler Youth boy, obsessed with Nazis and their theology and unwavering in his view of the Jews as a menace. It adds a buffer between the audience and the harsh realities of this period in history while also highlighting the ridiculousness but also terrifying thoughts the future of Germany had. Roman Griffin Davis is great as JoJo and carries the film ably. He has good comic timing but also sells some of the more emotional scenes well. It is promising that he holds his own alongside Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Taika Waititi as JoJo’s imaginery friend, Hitler.
The adult characters are little more than caricatures in some cases, Rockwell and Johansson being the exception. They again highlight some of the absurdity of Hitler’s Germany but do so in a very funny way, with genuine belly laughs in places. It is a testament to Waititi that he manages to bring light to the scenes that need it the most while never overshadowing how dark the story really is.
There is also heart here to. The story between JoJo and Johansson as his Mother is a great one which shows a conflict within their views but how much love overcomes this. The more integral one is the relationship between JoJo and the Jew he finds hiding in his house. This one has everything from humour, to suspense through to downright absurdity, particularly when the Gestapo arrive.
The Gestapo and the way they are treated is one of a few examples where the film mocks too much and undercuts some of the real-life terror. This is seen in Stephen Merchant’s portrayal as head of the Gestapo and the way this is played for laughs. It is an instance where the terror and fear would have been more effective than the comedy which tries to cheapen it.
This is a rare instance and the winning factor in JoJo Rabbit is the heart. There are moments of shock and some which will stun with a sudden emotional turn but these serve a purpose which shows there is some light at the end of the tunnel, even for a character so embedded in Nazi belief.
Overall, JoJo Rabbit just about manages to strike the right balance of humour and heart when tackling a subject as stark as Nazi Germany. It highlights the absurdity well while also bringing you down to earth with some of the harsher realities of that period. The cast are brilliant, with young Griffin Davis holding the film on his shoulders well. A few missteps in tone don’t do enough to spoil this as a great if somewhat unconventional comedy.
Rating – 4
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