During the opening credits of Jojo Rabbit, we’re treated to The Beatles singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” while documentary footage plays showing crowds of Germans going absolutely nuts for Hitler, sieg-heiling and cheering for him. It’s a fairly good indication of the kind of humour you can expect from Jojo Rabbit and writer/director Taika Waititi, who hit the big time after directing ‘Thor Ragnarok‘, but has previously been responsible for a wide range of brilliantly quirky movies such as ‘What We Do in the Shadows‘ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’.
We begin by meeting 10 year old German boy, Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), as he nervously prepares to head off to Nazi youth camp in order to fulfill his dream of serving Adolf Hitler. Heading up the camp is one-eyed Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), aided by a bunch of inept instructors, including Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) and Finkel (Alfie Allen). At the camp, boys get to play with knives and hand grenades, girls are taught the importance of having babies (Fraulein Rahm has given birth to 18!), while all of the children are taught about the evil monsters that are the Jews. Accompanying Jojo at the camp are best friend Yorki (a brilliant Archie Yates, soon to be starring in the recently announced remake of Home Alone) and Jojo’s imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi). When Jojo refuses to wring the neck of rabbit during a lesson on killing (earning him the nickname Jojo Rabbit), and is hospitalised following an unfortunate incident with a grenade, he is forced to leave the camp behind, returning home to be with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).
While his mother is out during the day, Jojo discovers a teenage Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding out in the wall-space of his sisters bedroom. Jojo is initially shocked, and repulsed, by this hideous Jew, even more so when he discovers that it was his mother who was responsible for hiding her. As time goes on though, Jojo and Elsa begin to form a friendship, with Elsa feeding Jojo a series of made up ridiculous stories and tales regarding the origins and ways of Jews so that Jojo can write a book about them. All the while, Rosie remains completely unaware that Jojo knows anything of Elsa. The bumbling, goofy Hitler occasionally shows up too when Jojo needs words of encouragement, or when times are tough, and provides us with some welcome light relief. More humour is provided in the form of various smaller characters, including gestapo member Stephen Merchant and his team during what is essentially a pretty serious and dramatic scene as they show up and ransack Jojo’s house.
But Jojo Rabbit is a movie about relationships. The Jojo/Hitler dynamic begins to take a backseat as things start to get more serious and we focus more on the bond between Jojo and his mother, and the relationship between Jojo and Elsa, as the final months of the war play out. The child actors in Jojo Rabbit are all outstanding and we also get to see a wonderfully different side to Scarlett Johansson. Sam Rockwell is hilarious and Rebel Wilson is just, well, Rebel Wilson! Occasionally though, we are dealt an unexpected gut punch, and it’s fair to say that you’ll be crying at Jojo Rabbit just as much as you’ll be laughing. If I’m honest, I really wasn’t expecting that side to Jojo Rabbit and it did more for me and my enjoyment of the movie than the comedy did, which wasn’t really as laugh out loud as I thought it would be. Overall though, Jojo Rabbit is simply wonderful – funny, heartbreaking, sad and poignant – and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.