JoJo Rabbit Learns A Lesson

The Stream: The whipsaw changes in tone can be disorienting and highlight lulls in the forward momentum of the story.

The Big Screen: Compelling performances from a good cast bring offbeat humor and depth of emotion.

The Final Bill: It is humorous with a distinct point of view and a heartfelt message, but if you’re not on the wavelength with that point of view, you won’t get it.

-Trip Fontaine

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis (as Jojo); Thomasin McKenzie (as Elsa); Scarlett Johansson (as Rosie); and Taika Waititi (as Adolf)
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

How do you solve a problem like Jojo? He’s a 10 year-old, Hitler Youth with Adolf as an imaginary friend. Does he understand what it all means? Or, does he really just want to play dress up and be a part of a club, as is suggested by one of the other characters. How does a 10 year old navigate this complicated and dangerous world? Jojo Rabbit explores these themes and more through a delicate balance of satire and drama. Taika Waititi wrote and directed Jojo Rabbit, which is based on a novel by Christine Leunens called Caging Skies; and he brings his special brand of boffo comedy – even portraying Jojo’s imaginary confidante, Adolf. It’s both wacky and serious. Sometimes it is both within the span of minutes.

I have had a difficult time digesting Jojo Rabbit because I wanted it to be more impactful to me than I felt it was. It’s a coming of age story with many of the tropes that a coming of age story has. Jojo is destined to learn a lesson. On the other hand, Waititi, as writer, director and cast member, has a strong point of view about lampooning the ridiculousness of Nazism and through his brand of humor dismantles other hate-filled ideologies. In that way, the film is novel and a worthy viewing. The whole thing can be disorienting, which may take some audience members out of the overall experience of the film.

Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo. This kid is great. He has the weight of this sometimes silly and sometimes very serious movie on his shoulders. Through the eyes of this child, we see and question war, ideology, love and loss. Davis always seems appropriately in tune with his character. There are other great performances by Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother and Thomasin McKenzie as the mysterious stranger Jojo develops a relationship with. I’ll say that Waititi’s Adolf is very impactful in his brief scenes; and there’s a hilarious and threatening cameo by Stephen Merchant. The only out of place and unnecessary cast member is Rebel Wilson, which is true of most of the roles she’s portrayed. No offense to you, Ms. Wilson.

S2S Rating Scale

Overall, Jojo Rabbit is a good movie that should be seen. It will not be what you expect. The balance of comedy and drama achieved by Waititi didn’t always work to me. If you are not calibrated to this satirical tone, then you may not enjoy Jojo’s ride. I say proceed to the theater with caution.