Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a whole can of tonal whiplash, albeit an audacious one with a palpable heart and enviable Instagramesque color palette. Taking place during the tail end of World War II, the story follows a young boy (Roman Griffin Davis) named Jojo as he attends a Nazi youth camp while also befriending a Jewish teenage girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his home. His mother Rosie (Scarlet Johansson), it turns out, is part of a resistance group against the Nazis. Oh, and his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi, who identifies as a Polynesian Jew). But instead of an evil fascist leader, Hitler’s a blithering buffoon.
Let’s talk about the tonal whiplash. Jojo Rabbit marches to the beat of its own drum. The eccentric dramedy is sweet and irreverent for most of its duration, then plunges into a rhythm of tragedy and violence in the third act. And while the comedy is often sharp, sometimes it doesn’t quite land, especially the scenes with Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), whose goofy moments can sometimes feel very deliberately inserted into the film.
Still, there’s a lot that’s great about Jojo Rabbit. Davis’ performance as the lead character feels precocious, but by no means irritatingly. Actually, Davis, and Archie Yates (who plays his adorable friend Yorki), manage to simultaneously bring innocence and dryness to the movie, which is, to its credit, never schmaltzy. I genuinely worried about Jojo, frequently wondering if this society would corrupt him. But little moments remind us that his goodness really could stay intact, like when he wrote Elsa the letter as her boyfriend to cheer her up. Scarlett Johansson also brings warmth to her portrayal of Jojo’s mother Rosie, who’s simultaneously spirited and vulnerable. Rosie could’ve used a hair more characterization, but her dinner table moment with Jojo left nary a tear duct of mine dry.
The film’s also gorgeous to look at, reminiscent of, as many have pointed out, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The bright greens of the bucolic foliage and the jewel-toned furniture and clothes lend the movie a feel of innocence and hope. And perhaps it’s a puerile point, but I still can’t stop thinking about Rosie’s beautiful red berry lipstick. Speaking of Rosie, her flats as a symbol throughout the film wrecked me the final time I saw them. One of my favorite scenes was when she went outside with Jojo and told him that he’d find someone special one day. The shoes and lipstick, as well as her teal coat and the green grass, made the moment, already bolstered by beautiful framing and clever writing, extra poignant.
The verdict? I finished the film unsure if all of its elements together worked as a whole for me, but also loved specific aspects of it. I’m happy that Waititi won the Academy Award for best screenplay, and I’m excited to see what he and his cast do next.