Movie Review: “Jojo Rabbit”
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is 10 years old and lives in Germany during World War II. He has heard stories about Jewish people his entire live, and believes that they are monsters. He is a fanatic of Nazi Germany, and wants to become a Nazi soldier when he is older. He even has an imaginary friend who is none other than Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Although he almost had his chance at training to become a Nazi soldier, an unfortunate accident changed all that.
After being sent home to heal, his faith in the Nazi ideology has not faltered. While at home one day, he hears a strange noise from upstairs, but he knows that he is home alone. Upon investigating, he discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his walls. Her name is Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and she claims that Jojo's mother had invited her to stay in the walls of their home. Jojo is terrified of the girl, knowing all the horrifying stories that he had been told throughout his life. If he turns her in, it could get him and his mother killed, but with each interaction with the girl, he begins to question the things that he had been taught his entire life.
The Pros & Cons
Jojo & Elsa (+8pts)
The Switch (-1pts)
The Supporting Cast (+5pts)
Some Comedy (-2pts)
The Plot & The Tone (+5pts)
Pro: Jojo & Elsa (+8pts)
Individually, I liked each of these characters. Elsa was a Jewish girl who lived in Germany, and needed to stay hidden or else she would get caught. Jojo was a fanatic who fell victim to the lies and propaganda that the Nazis spread throughout Germany during World War II. He saw Adolf Hitler as an idol and a hero, and Jojo wanted to do whatever he could to be someone that Adolf Hitler would approve of.
Jojo had a very twisted view of reality, which made him an interesting character. This was then made more interesting with the inclusion of Elsa, as it forced Jojo to come literally face-to-face with the lies that he had been told. There was denial, and there was distrust, and it made for an interesting dynamic between the two characters. Then there was Elsa's side of things. She did not see Jojo as a threat, so she sort of went along with his insane view of what he thought Jewish people were, and what he thought they could do. It would be impossible not to sympathize with Elsa's story, and I think Jojo's story (being a child and naive victim of propaganda) was interesting as well. These two characters were the entire premise of this movie, and I really enjoyed Jojo's story, as well as the impact that Elsa had on it.
Con: The Switch (-1pts)
While I enjoyed the fact that Elsa being in Jojo's home challenged his views, I had a rough idea how their story together would go before even watching the movie. I knew Jojo would grow from his experience, but I did not think the filmmakers did a good job of explaining that growth. In other words, there just seemed to be a switch that did not seem to have any event that caused it. In one scene, his mind was entirely set one way. Then all of a sudden, he was conflicted, and I did not understand what made him this way. I liked the premise, as I thought the two main characters' relationship together was an interesting one, but I thought the filmmakers could have done a better job of developing Jojo to explain his growth. It was not a major issue, as I totally expected this switch to happen, but if I had to pick at issues in this movie, this switch would have to be one of them.
Pro: The Supporting Cast (+5pts)
The supporting cast in this movie was pretty great. First and foremost, there was Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler, or at least Jojo's imaginary version of Adolf Hitler. Then there was Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's mom, Stephen Merchant as a Nazi investigator, Rebel Wilson and Sam Rockwell as Nazis who trained children to be soldiers, and so much more. Some played comedic roles, some played dramatic and more plot-driving roles, but really the entire supporting cast was great in their respective parts.
My favorite, by far, was Jojo's friend Yorki (Archie Yates). This kid was too funny, and whenever he was on screen, the movie was better for it. His cheery attitude, funny lines, and great comedic moments made him a highlight of this movie. He was not on screen a lot, but this movie was a certainly better when he was.
Con: Some Comedy (-2pts)
While there were no big comedic moments that will have you rolling on the floor, the movie had plenty of light-hearted humor. Most of this worked effectively at keeping a movie about Nazi Germany feeling light, but some of it definitely did not land for me. The ridiculousness of Rebel Wilson during the battle, and the costume designed by Sam Rockwell's character were some examples of intended comedic moments that I do not think landed. Fortunately, most of the humor worked, and while I thought some of it missed its mark, this was definitely the minority. Nonetheless, these moments felt pretty out-of-place, which made them worth mentioning here.
Pro: The Plot & The Tone (+5pts)
The plot of this movie was certainly an interesting one. It was about a boy who had absorbed all of the Nazi propaganda, as he was too naive to have known any better. He believed Jewish people were monsters; the stuff of nightmares and horror stories. Nonetheless, he was forced to come face-to-face with a Jewish person living in his house.
This was a light-hearted, feel-good story with plenty of humor. Knowing the subject matter that the plot of the movie addressed, the tone that the filmmakers went in was surprising, but I thought that it worked. They injected humor into this story to keep the focus on Jojo's growth, rather than having that story smothered by the seriousness of the things that were going on around him. The humor worked, but the filmmakers also made sure that the humor did not distract from the story that they were trying to tell. The filmmakers delivered a story that dramatically and emotionally addressed some of the horrors that took place during World War II. It also consistently made me laugh and put a smile on my face, as it was told through the lens of a 10 year old boy coming to terms with the lies he had been taught. It was an interesting story, but the the tone made it both fun and dramatically compelling.
Con: Impact (-2pts)
I thought the filmmakers did a great job setting everything up. Among other things, they setup Jojo's relationship with his mother, Jojo's opinion of the Nazi's and Adolf Hitler, and Jojo's opinion of Jewish people. Then the filmmakers started pulling the trigger on each of these things, and I thought the conclusions to these aspects of the story were missing the impact that they should have had. I think this was due to the filmmaker's insistence on keeping the tone light. I liked the light tone of the movie, but I thought some of the movie's bigger moments deserved more time to play out.
Letting these scenes play out longer would have allowed these scenes to be a lot more impactful, and the filmmakers could have gone right back to the light tone that they were so determined to deliver. Instead, the filmmakers delivered these big moments of growth for Jojo, but moved on from them quickly to keep the tone light. Again, I thought that the lighter tone of this movie worked. However, I also thought that the speed at which the filmmakers moved on from the bigger moments in Jojo's story did a disservice to those scenes and to the overall story, as it could have been a lot more impactful than it was.
Grade: B+ (88pts)
I liked this movie quite a bit. It was not as impactful as it could have been, as the filmmakers' insistence on keeping the tone light prevented them from really sinking their teeth into the more dramatic moments. Nonetheless, this movie was still pretty good. It was an interesting story about a boy who had been manipulated by Nazi propaganda, and had a naive idea of what Jewish people were like. However, he was then forced to meet one, and struggled with the notion that she was not anything like the horrific stories he had been told his entire life.
This movie would not have worked if the viewer did not like the relationship between the two main characters. Fortunately, Jojo and Elsa had an entertaining and interesting dynamic with one another, and they were able to carry much of this movie. I also liked the tone, as the filmmakers were mostly able to balance the light-hearted humor with the heavier material—although, as I said before, the movie's bigger dramatic moments were not fleshed out properly. I also thought the supporting cast was filled with effective characters (both comedic and dramatic), with Yorki being my personal favorite. This movie had an interesting premise, and a strong cast, and I had a good time watching it.