Taika Waititi's JoJo Rabbit walks the line between delight and despair

Taika Waititi’s use of comedy as a gateway to the heart is his speciality, and never has he used it with such profoundly potent efficacy as he does with JoJo Rabbit.

In the final stages of WWII, 10-year-old Johannes 'Jojo' Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) lives with his mum Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in a small village in Germany. His father left them to fight and nobody has seen him since.

Rosie is the mum all mums aspire to be - playful, protective, empowering.  She also has a few secrets; the biggest one is Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the young Jewish girl hiding in a cubbyhole upstairs.

All wee JoJo wants to be is a soldier and fight for his Fuhrer. He’s so in love with Hitler, in fact, that Adolf comes to life as his imaginary friend - Waititi’s version of Adolf, at any rate.

JoJo Rabbit gets his nickname at a Hitler Youth training camp when, under pressure from his peers, he's still too kind to kill a rabbit.  

After a freak accident trying to prove his commitment to the cause, he finds himself convalescing at home. On hearing mysterious noises in the wall, he uncovers a shocking truth - there is a Jewish child living in his house.

Playing Hitler for maximum lol-factor is bound to be a complicated affair. 

If you’re not the kind of person who sees supreme virtue in mocking one of the world’s most heinous human beings, you may struggle. 

The plain and simple truth is that laughing at bullies and - or Nazi dictators - belittles their perceived strength and supremacy. It's a rich storytelling vein to tap, and by crikey, does Taika tap that vein. 

Exposing the sheer idiocy of bigotry and racism with the simplest of observations, on the grand scale of Nazi Germany, is bold, it is ballsy and it’s a beautiful thing.

The gut-punch in this story comes from nowhere and I quite simply never fully recovered. 

The film looks at war through the eyes of a child, exploring the notion that they don’t see colour or race, or even know hate, until we teach them. Taika walks this tightrope of tone like an Olympian, crafting a nigh-on perfect anti-hate satire which ripped out my heart entirely before he put it back together again.

For us Kiwis, JoJo will have even more power. This kind of humour is embedded in our consciousness. I feel like we use it to soften the blow, to ease the pain - but ultimately what it does is open our hearts and minds.

Performance-wise you have everything. Another child star is born in Roman Griffin Davis. His timing is so intuitive and so tuned to Taika’s beats. More than that, his ability to bring everything out so authentically with each of the characters he works with makes him very special indeed.  

We already know New Zealand actor Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, The Changeover) is a star - and we shall continue to watch her rapid rise as she augments her growing portfolio of roles with a finely tuned, deeply connected and staunchly spirited delivery.

Hollywood represents as well. Johansson is the most playful we’ve seen her for a while. There is purity and genuine joy in her every step, and she is wonderful to watch. 

Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Iron Man 2), in fairness, can play a role like this in his sleep. His casting as the flamboyantly hilarious Captain Klenzendorf is just majestical alongside Brit Stephen Merchant (The Office, Logan) as Captain Deertz.

As a shining beacon of non-toxic masculinity, the relationship between JoJo and his mate Yorkie (Archie Yates) is just the best. If the future is these two, then the future is good.

If there was ever a time for a story which does nothing but spread love not hate, that time is right now. 

The bond between mother and son, between new friends and old ones and the idea that we have to mend the self-made fissures in humanity generation by generation - it’s all here.

JoJo Rabbit will wrap you up in the cinematic group hug that laughing and crying together in a dark theatre can bring.

5 Stars. 

JoJo Rabbit hits New Zealand Cinemas on October 24.