MOVIE REVIEW: Director throws rulebook out in Jojo Rabbit


Four stars

Director: Taika Waititi

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson

Rating: M

Running time: 108 minutes

Verdict: One-of-a-kind


Taika Waititi doesn't just ignore WC Field's golden rule: "Never work with animals or children", he actively flaunts it. The Kiwi director's best films - Boy, Hunt For The Wilder People and, now, Jojo Rabbit - depend on the scene-stealing charisma of their pint-sized male protagonists, each of whom lights up the screen in his own distinctive way.

Like Wilder People, Jojo Rabbit centres around the unlikely relationship between a captivating misfit and an unconventional father figure.

While the same might also be said of Boy, there was a biological component to Waititi's breakout film that further complicated the situation.

Jojo Rabbit's deputised Dad happens to be imaginary.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit.
Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit.

Scrawny, lonely, and afraid, the 10-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) invents his own version of Adolf Hitler to advise him (and who better to play that role than Waititi himself.)

Jojo's Fuhrer is a one-man cheer squad who feeds the kid's overactive imagination with grotesque images of Jewish monsters. But while the humour is slapstick, its consequences can be very real.

After a humiliating incident involving a bunch of bullies at a Hitler Youth camp, "Adolf" encourages Jojo to embrace his inner rabbit - resulting in a terrible accident involving a hand grenade that prefigures events to come.

Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit.
Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit.

Sam Rockwell's crazy, one-eyed Nazi camp captain ultimately defies expectations by becoming the most dependable adult in Jojo's strange and dangerous world.

Women play a larger role in what might be described as the third film in Waititi's coming-of-age trilogy.

Scarlett Johannson makes a strong impression as Jojo's mother Rosie, a woman of mystery and backbone who is dressed as if she has walked straight out of a Wes Anderson movie (and there are definite echoes here of Moonrise Kingdom).

But the film's key relationship is the one between Jojo and the 18-year-old Jewish girl he discovers in his attic.

Thomasin McKenzie, Roman Griffin Davis, and Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit.
Thomasin McKenzie, Roman Griffin Davis, and Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit.

Resisting his initial impulse to turn her over to the authorities, largely in the interest of self-preservation, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) soon makes a powerful impression on the callow youngster, disabusing him of some of his more fanciful notions about her race. As the German war effort disintegrates around them, they form an increasingly
tight bond.

Drawing on his experience on the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit is Waititi's most ambitious film to date.

The writer-director's skilfully silly adaptation of Christine Leunens' novel, Caging Skies, to which it bears very little resemblance, tackles the phenomenon of mass hysteria with a deceptively light touch.

Seldom has the "Heil Hitler" salute generated so much laughter (notwithstanding the obvious comparisons to Mel Brooks' 1967 film The Producers). Told from Jojo's naive perspective, this warm-blooded satire-cum-rite of passage is deeply affecting.

Opens Boxing Day.