3.5 out of 5
To call the new film by writer and director Taika Waititi a comedy is to do it a disservice. Yes, there are many laugh-out-loud moments and many times I was peeking through my fingers at the screen. This is more satire than comedy. It is more coming-of-age than satire and it wears its anti-war message proudly.
I'm a fan of Taika Waititi. He first came to my attention in 2016's Hunt for the Wilderpeople which I loved. The following year he directed his first superhero film, Thor: Ragnarok which I and many fans believed to be one of the best Marvel films of their current 20-film oeuvre. As a reminder, here's my review of that film. I'm delighted to see that no only is he bringing his talents to the next Suicide Squad film, but he is also returning to the world of Asgard in Thor: Love and Thunder as the voice of Korg.
JoJo Rabbit is based on the book "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunens and tells the take of a young German boy, nicknamed JoJo by his friends (played wonderfully by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis). JoJo has an imaginary friend who he talks to about his problems, his troubles, his concerns. In a wonderful twist, the imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi in a completely over the top performance). Many of the comedic moments in the film come from the pair's interactions and overreactions. We see JoJo joining the Hitler Youth and going to a training camp which is led by Capt. Klenzendorf (played by Sam Rockwell in another OTT performance). JoJo makes some friends along the way and earns his rabbit moniker. Following an unfortunate incident JoJo has to recuperate at home where we meet him mother Rosie (played by Scarlett Johansson).
During his convalescence, JoJo discovers that his mother is harbouring a Jewish girl, Elsa (played by Thomasin McKenzie - who we last saw in Leave No Trace) in their attic space. The relationship between JoJo and Elsa is the emotional heart of the film. It is a relationship that starts out based in fear and ends up as something resembling love and friendship. Along they way there is cruelty and heartbreak and a good bit of growing up by JoJo. The film's ending is uplifting and well-earned.
The spirit of Mel Brooks is never too far away though. The film's comedic moments provided by many of the cast including Rebel Wilson and JoJo's friend Yorkie (Archie Yates) are hilarious. Stephen Merchant turns up as an SS officer and the "Heil Hitler" sequence is as predictable as it is hilarious. But the darkness is never far away. Armando Ianucci would be proud. Great to see Alfie Allen rounding out the cast, fresh from his stint on Game of Thrones as Theon Greyjoy.
There is heartbreak and despair too. I was too busy laughing at the jokes, the satire that the sudden introduction of a character's death broke my heart. It was both unexpected and key to the story. Kudos for being so brave.
At the screening I attended, the audience were engaged and, judging by the laughter and sniffles, clearly engaged. I can understand how it may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you enjoyed Death of Stalin, then this is for you.