JoJo Rabbit Review

Some films are funny. Some films make you laugh. Some films make you want to cry. Some films have powerful messages. Some films take all of that and combine it into one incredible experience. JoJo Rabbit was that film for me. 

I should preface this with the fact I am a fan of Taika Waititi’s style and comedy, and its satirical nature gets me laughing. With a film like What we do in the Shadows, Taika showed his raw talent for satire. JoJo Rabbit feels like an evolution of that film maker, and with age and experience comes the knowledge of when to use humour.

JoJo Rabbit, if you didn’t know, is a film about a ten year old member of the Hitler Youth, who is all in on the Nazi message, and has an imaginary best friend, who just happens to be Adolf Hitler himself, but through a ten year olds eyes. I won’t say more, as I really do think this film should be seen. I don’t want to risk numbing you to all the twists and emotions that play out through the film.

I must mention the cast, as I haven’t seen any of the children in anything before, but they’re all fantastic. The title character JoJo is played by Roman Griffin Davis and considering the whole film revolves around him, it’s a shockingly good performance. Opposite him are Tomasin McKenzie as Elsa (not that one) and Archie Yates as Yorki. Considering the subject matter, they are working with, the fact these three all deliver such great performances is a testament to their talent and the work of director Taika.

Praise must be given to Scarlett Johansson as well, she plays JoJo’s mother and I will not go into detail on the role, but she is excellent at being the heart of the film and coming across as a genuinely good person.

Director/Actor Taika is wonderfully weird and over the top as imaginary Hitler, and that makes the ridiculous things he is saying and doing acceptable. He is a ten-year old’s image of the horrific creature we know from history, and the film’s refusal to acknowledge him as anything but an over embellished bullshit peddling maniac is perfect. Yes, what the Nazi’s did was horrendous, nobody in this film argues against that. JoJo Rabbit treats the ideals that these awful people tried to instil in an entire country with the contempt it deserves. They’re portrayed as ridiculous, because that’s how outlandish and stupid the things they genuinely believed were.

The subject matter gets heavy at times, and those moments are given the room they need. The film has a lot of ups and downs, but crucially with a film on this topic, it ends it in such a positive way that you leave the cinema with a smile on your face. I had high expectations going in, and to come out with them surpassed is unbelievable to me.

The only reason I can see people not enjoying this film is because of the way it handles such awful people in the way I described above, if you’re someone who can be offended by some of the subject matter, I would advise steering clear. For me, the message and the handling of the subject is perfect as I stated, but I know that won’t be the case for all, but that’s kind of the only thing stopping me from recommending this movie to everybody.

Films are at their best when they make you feel emotions, be that at the emotional crescendo of this film, or when Iron Man snaps his fingers in Endgame, or when Woody grabs his friends hands as they head towards a garbage incinerator in  Toy Story 3. They are all moments that make you feel something, and JoJo Rabbit does it consistently throughout making this one of my very favourite films.

Good: Great Performances, Excellent Script. A Funny, Tear-Inducing rollercoaster that leaves you smiling.

Bad: Satirical handling of sensitive subject matter might not work for everyone.

10/10 – This is my favourite film of 2019

 

 

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review

What We Do In The Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary directed and starring Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.  It was mentioned a lot during the press events for Thor Ragnarok and touted as a big reason he got given the Thor Ragnarok chair. I went back and watched to see if the film holds up. 

Shadows is essentially Taika Waititi’s sense of humour put onto film. The comedic style of Thor Ragnarok is clear to see, with the documentary style serving as a great framing device for the New Zealand native’s excellent writing. Him and co-writer Jemaine Clement also star in the film, and whilst the acting is nothing special, their comedic sense gets them by and their timing is great throughout.

The film is unabashedly weird, and it may be a little too odd for some audience members. The weirdness is contrasted by the realistic lens that Shadows is shot with, the camera work and effects complimenting each other to keep you engaged with the film. Some of the camera work is really clever, and shows how a lack of budget can be worked with to create some really great moments that a larger budget would have solved with throwing money at a special effects team. I like seeing films do this stuff, and really appreciate the ingenuity required to make a low-budget film look this good.

The jokes have a pretty high success rate, although there were a few duds for me. Sometimes the jokes are a little forced, but that’s really in the minority. For the most part I at least smiled to myself and a couple of times I laughed out loud. This is Waititi’s humour at its raw,  unfiltered. Ragnarok showed us his refined, sharpened wit and his writing has only improved over the last few years. What We Do In The Shadows has some really well written jokes and set ups that pay off in entertaining ways, and that ability to find something entertaining in nearly all situations is one of the reasons Marvel went after the filmmaker.

Mock documentary films rarely move the needle for me, as I find it hard to connect with the characters and the jokes sometimes feel a bit forced. However, as I learnt shows like The US Office and Parks and Recreation, when they’re executed well, they’re brilliant. What we do in the shadows is the first film I have watched that really got me invested since the uniquely flavoured Borat in 2006. This film isn’t nearly as politically incorrect (nothing really is compared to Borat) but it does the same job of introducing outlandish characters and putting them in funny situations.

I haven’t watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani parody for a long time, but I can’t imagine it holds up terribly well today. What We Do In The Shadows does hold up from 5 years ago, and I think it has the right ingredients to stand the test of time. What is certain is that Taika Waititi is on the up, with clear improvements in his directorial skills as well as his writing from this to Thor Ragnarok. All that means I can’t wait to see what comes next from the Kiwi, and I hope he can stay on this trajectory.

Good: Brilliant writing, outlandish and fun characters, Stu is a great guy, and the filmmaking skills used to get the most out of the budget are great.

Bad: The acting isn’t the best, and there are a few flat jokes. May be a bit weird for some audiences.

8/10 – What Will Taika Do Next?