Taika Waititi is a filmmaker whose movies – at least with the four that I have seen – really click for me. His sense of humor aligns with mine, and his ability to craft characters that you empathize with endears his films to be far more than an average comedy. Jojo Rabbit (2019) continues along this path and showcases two young talents who seem to have bright futures ahead of them.
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is going to a camp for the youth of Hitler’s army. The one advantage he has is his imaginary friend, Adolf himself (Taika Waititi). Jojo’s loyalty is unwavering until he finds that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in their house.
McKenzie entered our world through the big screen (or more likely the small screen) as the lead performance in the outstanding Leave No Trace (2018). Her ability to deliver a nuanced performance was showcased in that film, and Waititi asks her to flex her acting muscles even harder in Jojo. She must be fierce, kind, and empathetic, just to start with. I absolutely loved her character and the relationship that she develops with Jojo. McKenzie gives so much with just her eyes and the subtle movements and positioning of her body, that her future seems very bright indeed.
Davis gives a very good performance and again emphasizes Waititi’s ability to cast young, first-time actors. I wouldn’t say his performance is perfect, but there are a lot of beats that would challenge even the most seasoned actor. At times, Davis must demonstrate his comedic chops, while at other moments his dramatic talents are called upon – and these two are weaved together that even crossover at times. For the most part, Davis is able to pull this off – especially during one specific crucial dramatic scene, where he was able to get the right emotions in place to really tug at my heartstrings.
Taika’s style is absolutely my favorite part of his movies. There is a really cool rotating camera montage that he also used in Hunt for the Wilderepeople (2015) that showcases the passing of time between the two characters. His humor comes out of nowhere, and his cast – especially Rockwell and Merchant – are able to deliver laughs in some unexpected ways. Often, Waititi’s role in the movie is the funniest…see Korg from Thor: Ragnarok (2017) for a great example – and that is definitely true here. I really like how he approaches filmmaking, and there are a wealth of little examples of his set-up and pay-off moments that show is intentionality behind the choices he makes.
Jojo Rabbit’s premise alone is enough to make you either want to see it or to stay home. I’ll say that if you like any of Waititi’s other films, you should definitely check this one out. It is easily one of the funnier films I’ve seen this year and has two outstanding young performances. Jojo Rabbit earns the Must See rating.