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Taika Waititi is best known to audiences for his unique comedic sensibilities, but what makes Jojo Rabbit such a fascinating movie for the filmmaker is the way in which it balances tonal extremes. Being a satire that features the writer/director playing an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, there are many incredibly funny scenes, but they are brilliantly intertwined with dramatic and horrific moments of reality that creep in.
What the film does in this respect is fascinating, but that’s not only a viewpoint coming from this audience member – it’s also a sentiment that I recently learned is also shared by really the entire cast:
Earlier this month I went to the Los Angeles press day for Jojo Rabbit, and while sitting down with Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Roman Griffin Davis, Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell, and Alfie Allen one aspect of the movie I asked all of them about was Taika Waititi’s approach to tone. And while they had different perspectives on it, at the end of it all it was an aspect of the film that impressed all.
For Scarlett Johansson – who plays the mother of the titular Jojo, an imaginative, naïve child swept up in the Nazi movement during World War II in Germany – the specialness of Jojo Rabbit and it’s approach to both humor and dark drama was something that she recognized even before production started and she read Taika Waititi’s script. She admitted that just briefly describing the plot of the film makes it sound a bit odd, but that she knew from the start that it was a balancing act that the movie would be able to pull off:
This film, it's really kind of impossible to give the log line of this movie, because it sounds not great, but when you read the actual script it was full of that very unique tone or flavor that Taika brings, which is the ability to mix both the absurd with the poignant. And it's so sensitive and so childlike, but then also like has this deep soul to it, like Taika himself. You could tell just reading the script that it was going to work artistically.
Continuing, she noted that the way that you read a script doesn’t always perfectly translate to what you wind up seeing in the finished cut of any given film, but she never doubted the skills of Taika Waititi to adapt the material. Said Johansson,
You never know if something is going to connect with an audience. But this film felt like something that was gonna... It was like a no brainer to that it would come together with Taika at the helm.
In contrast, Stephen Merchant, who plays a committed Nazi who conducts house-by-house searches for Jews in hiding, wasn’t fully sure how it was all going to play out until he actually saw the finished film – but then he was in absolute awe of its genius. He may not have been able to fully conceive of Taika Waititi’s singular vision for Jojo Rabbit when he was on set, but he was floored by it when he saw how it came together:
I think it's sort of strange. He's the only one with the big picture, really. So I think we're finding our way through each of the scenes, dialing up the humor or the tension as we're told, but I certainly had no sense of how it was all gonna cut together in the end. I just thought, 'How is this going to work?' And I was dazzled like everybody else when I saw the finished thing. I was like, 'How am I laughing, and now I'm getting emotional,' and by the end I'm in tears. I don't quite know how he's done that juggling act.
Further adding to the compliments, Stephen Merchant – who notably co-created the legendary series The Office – and this incredible thing to say about his Jojo Rabbit director:
I'm genuinely, as someone who loves humor, has worked in comedy a long time and try to go for emotion in movies and sometimes exceeded, I'm dazzled that he's pulled this off so well. I really am. I don't quite know how he did it.