TIFF Film #8 of 8
What a perfect way to end another fantastic year at TIFF. This film is a delight! A near-perfect mixture of absurd, silly humour, and genuine, heartfelt drama. For a film to be able to take me from deep belly laughs one moment, to welling up with tears the next is no easy task, it’s a tightrope walk, and Jojo Rabbit absolutely nails it. Written and directed by Taiki Waititi (based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens), Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II, who must confront his blind loyalty to the Nazi Party’s ethnic nationalism when he discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Oh, and young Jojo’s indoctrination runs so deep that his imaginary friend manifests itself as Adolf Hitler, played with hysterical buffoonery by Taiki Waititi himself. None of this may sound like it makes for particularly good comedy, or comedy at all for that matter, and I could even understand thinking that it just sounds tasteless, but I don’t know what to tell you. It just works. The film deservedly and mercilessly takes the piss out of Nazis, and all of the difficult subject matter is handled with surprising tenderness. Newcomer Roman Griffon Davis plays Jojo and does an excellent job, particularly so when you consider that this is his first film role and the emotional journey he’s required to guide his character through. The standout star though, is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the young Jewish girl being hidden by Jojo’s mother. You may have seen her in last year’s Leave No Trace, a criminally overlooked and under-seen film with an astonishingly good performance from McKenzie. I’m not sure that she’s quite on that level here, but she’s amazing regardless, and definitely an actress we should be on the lookout for in the near future. Scarlett Johansson also stars as Jojo’s mother, and there was some early speculation that she may be a supporting actress contender, but I’m not sure I see that happening. Not because she isn’t good in this, she absolutely is, but I figure she is a lock for her leading role in Marriage Story, and it is incredibly rare for an actress to be nominated in both categories in the same year. Jojo Rabbit was announced as the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner during my screening, which is the festival’s highest honour. None of us in the audience knew it until we left the theatre and looked at out phones, but given the sheer enthusiasm of the applause that broke out when the credits rolled, it didn’t surprise me at all when I found out. I tend to find applause after a film screening when none of the actors or filmmakers are present kind of just bizarre and tacky, but this just seemed so genuine, a packed house of people showing their appreciation for having just had themselves a damn good time at the movies.