Jojo Rabbit (2019): CIFF Film Review
This review was filed from the Chicago International Film Festival.
2019 has been a weird year for movies, to say the least. In a year filled with all kinds of movies, from giant superhero blockbusters to an endless melodramatic slur of biopics to some very interesting original content, it seems like this year, there is a movie for everything. But Jojo Rabbit, or New Zealand director Taika Waititi's look into a child's experience during WWII, seems to be, and feel, like nothing else that has hit the silver screen in 2019. The film is hilarious, lovely, and heartbreaking all at the same time - a true testament to the film's versatility. And although Jojo Rabbit has some flaws, ranging from big to small, it still is a good original time at the movies, which in this day and age, makes for a great experience.
The film tells the story of Jojo, a ten year old living in Nazi Germany who is in love with his country, his race, and his leader - who just happens to be his imaginary friend as well. As Jojo's pride for his country increases, his doubts begin to increase as well when he finds out that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl inside the walls of his house. As his belief system is questioned, Jojo is challenged to think about "what is right and what is wrong" in an ever changing world that seems to be leaving him behind. Along the way, we meet new characters, see new experiences, and learn to see the second World War through the eyes of a child - a feat few movies can pull off.
You can't even begin to talk about Jojo Rabbit without first talking about the amazing cast who was able to pull the inexplicably crazy script off to perfection. Roman Griffin Davis absolutely shines in the spotlight as Jojo, and along with co-star Thomasin McKenzie playing Elsa, the duo does a great job capturing the innocence of childhood, and the humor and humanity that can come in a time where those two things seem impossible to find. The script seems woefully original, and is brought to life especially by Waititi's excellent skills as a comedic writer - bringing a lighter feel to a topic that is so heavy. At any second, the audience may be laughing themselves to death, while in an instant, tears could be on the brink - merely proving how razor sharp the script truly is. The film moves extremely quickly, and by the time the end credits begin to roll, it is honestly hard to believe that it has been almost two hours; because once the viewer enters the wacky and uncontrollable world that Jojo lives in, they are invested: there is this craving to see what happens next, and how Jojo and Elsa fare through the tumultuous lifestyles they both live.
Although the film is fantastic, it is not without its flaws. I am a huge fan of the script, especially the comedic undertones that are riddled throughout it, but at certain times, the plot feels a bit uneven - as if some scenes need to be more emotional and just aren't being portrayed in the way they should. Without going into any major spoilers, there is one pivotal scene in the movie that needed to have a much bigger impact on the characters, plot, and film than it actually does. In fact, it seems like this moment is forgot about five minutes later, which brings me to another problem with the movie. Although the pacing works decently well for most of the movie, it sometimes feels like Jojo Rabbit is jumping from one scene to another, instead of riding a smooth train that bridges the film together in the right fashion.
Regardless of these flaws, the film is still pretty amazing - and plays fully to the extent of what Taika Waititi and the film crew originally described it as: "an anti-hate satire." The film is comedic, but in a way that can still present a serious topic when it needs to. The film is a promoter of peace, and truly does a great job showing the kindness of humans that can come out within the horror of war. Jojo Rabbit is sharp, original, and fresh - just like the knife Jojo always seems to be losing in the film. And for that, and so much more, it deserves a celebration.