Johannes ‘Jojo’ Belzter (Roman Griffin Davies) is a good little Nazi. He idolizes Adolf Hitler, plunges headfirst into his training with the Hitler Youth, and won’t believe any of the unpatriotic rumours that Germany is losing the war. Though his dedication is lauded by party officials, it soon begins to waver when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.
So goes the latest film from Taika Waititi, the Kiwi writer-director behind hilarious indies like vampire mock-doc What We Do In The Shadows and unconventional buddy movie Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Following on from his first blockbuster outing, 2017’s frenetic (and equally hilarious) Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit marks the first time Waititi has been gifted so many big names for a non-franchise movie. He makes good use of them all, getting particularly great performances from Scarlett Johansson as loving and quietly defiant mother Rosie, and Sam Rockwell as ridiculous and uncomfortably likable Hitler Youth instructor Captain Klenzendorf. Stephen Merchant’s all-too-short role as creepily friendly Gestapo officer Deertz is another stand-out, managing to be both hilarious and deeply threatening at the same time. As Jojo himself, newcomer Davies makes a likable lead, and handles the comedy well, particularly in his interactions with his idiotic imaginary Adolf Hitler, played with usual comedic flair by Waititi himself.
Despite the ridiculousness contained in the script, ten-year-old Jojo remains believable throughout, his childish naivety both endearing and comedic. Nonetheless, though it is undoubtedly funny, the script as a whole feels oddly conventional for Waititi. Though the central relationship between Jojo and the Jewish Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) is moderately compelling, it remains the least entertaining aspect of the film, and the Nazi-child-and-Jewish-child-become-friends-because-of-the-innocence-of-children story is far from an original concept, nor one that would feel any less shallow if it were.
It’s hard to say that Waititi succeeded in creating the ‘anti-hate satire’ he intended to. Even in these days of a resurging far-right, there’s little in Jojo Rabbit that feels particularly relevant to today’s political or social climate. Sure, it makes fun of Nazis, but it doesn’t really do much else; there is never enough depth to really show something new, something that hasn’t been seen before in other Nazi parodies. So it may not be the rallying call for kindness and acceptance that it tried to be, but hey, it sure is funny, and sometimes that is enough.
Jojo Rabbit opens in UK cinemas on 1st January 2020.