Director Todd Phillips, known for comedies such as Old School, Road Trip and The Hangover trilogy recently made headlines during the press tour for his current movie, the drama Joker, by saying he decided to stop making comedies because “woke culture is ruining comedy.” Thank goodness Taika Waititi doesn’t agree.
Unlike Phillips, writer/director/producer/star of the new subversively and decidedly risky and darkly satirical movie Jojo Rabbit, Waititi thrives on pushing the envelope and challenging—and trusting—his audience to be able to handle subject matter that is eyebrow-raising, and to be able to appreciate the joke. While some may be shying away from doing risky work that may ruffle feathers, Waititi goes all in with a movie that is one of the most daring and committed satires I’ve ever seen.
I don’t want to say too much about it, because it should be experienced as an unexpected ride, but I will paint the picture for you in broad strokes. Waititi has made a movie that is a (dark) comedy about Hitler, Nazis and World War II. I know it’s been done before, most notably by Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin, so it’s not like this is groundbreaking stuff. But Waititi’s ability to raise it above farce is what makes this film feel so different. It is a bold and irreverent satire which mocks the Nazis and Hitler, but it also tells a deep and moving story against a backdrop of war. It is equal parts goofy and tragic, outrageous and sweet, heartfelt and horrific. And the Nazis are only a part of it.
Jojo Rabbit works because Waititi found the perfect tone and cast the perfect actors. While you may have seen Hitler and the Nazis satirized before, you have never seen them through the eyes of a 10-year old boy. Waititi walks the razor’s edge between a child’s innocence and his vulnerability as a commentary on the lunacy of war, especially this war. Waititi was able to find the perfect actor to embody this duality in the form of newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, playing the titular character, who is making his professional acting debut, which will blow your mind. This is the best child performance I’ve seen since Quvenzhané Wallis in 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. Davis is adorable and amazingly talented, able to navigate the emotions and layered narrative elements that are weaved through Waititi’s brilliant screenplay. The success of this tricky film relies on Davis’s ability to get the audience to love him, to root for him, to feel for him, even in the most bizarre of circumstances. It’s a complicated role and the performance he gives is not only endearing, but quite good.
Davis is surrounded in this film by several other excellent performances, including Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant and Archie Yates. But the performance that really stands out is the one that Waititi himself gives as Hitler. Yes, a wacky Maori Jewish man from New Zealand plays Hitler, which pretty much sums up the tone of this movie. Waititi’s performance is probably the thing that causes the most controversy, but I absolutely loved it. He plays Hitler as a cartoon, but also clearly a character borne from a child’s imagination, which forces you to realize that children consume everything around them, good and bad, and interpret it in their own way. Jojo Rabbit is a movie that challenges our perspective and does so with compelling abandon.
But Jojo Rabbit is so good not because it makes fun of Hitler (although that is really a highlight), but because it is so textured and finds ways to say so much while being so entertaining. There is not a single moment in this film where you won’t feel something. I absolutely loved this movie. I guess woke culture hasn’t ruined everything.