“Jojo Rabbit – what a charming little comedy set in Nazi Germany. Wow, that’s an oxymoron I never thought I’d say. Wait a minute, did they just do that? Never mind, I take it back! I take it back!” This was my line of thinking somewhere along the second act, where up to that point the film had been mostly laughs and Germany was bright and colorful, and the war seemed so far away. But lest we forget, the war was going on and the Nazis were conducting atrocities. Jojo Rabbit is an excellent satire of the era, from its opening montage of screaming girls hailing Hitler set to a German version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi’s deceivingly silly portrayal of the Fuhrer himself.
Loosely adapted from Christine Leunens’ 2004 novel, Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit follows 10-year old Johannes “JoJo” Betzler, a boy who, brainwashed by Nazis, discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their walls. With his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, JoJo struggles with what to do.
Roman Griffin Davis, who plays JoJo, is put to quite the task in his first time acting under the Hollywood spotlight. His character must maintain his boyish charm while also confronting more adult ideas he isn’t ready to understand, appear salvable from his Nazi indoctrination no matter how strong his blind nationalism may get. And Griffin Davis is up to the task and is stupendous. Meanwhile, he has a great supporting cast around him as well. Scarlett Johansson is a quirky and extremely caring single mother, who’s trying her best to hide any pain and loss from her son; her more optimistic viewpoint of the world contrasting that of Captain Klenzendorf’s, who is played by the King of Supporting Roles, Sam Rockwell. Captain Klenzendorf, reduced from general to camp counsellor, must come to terms with the past is the past and the future is all you can change, while also stepping in occasionally as the father figure JoJo seems to lack throughout the film. And lastly, of course, to discuss Taika as Hitler. There is an excited giddiness to JoJo’s imaginary friend, who likes to swim and dance and “barbeque unicorns,” and is the emphasizer for JoJo when he needs someone to talk to. But, there is also a menacing self-interest hiding behind that smile, that is let loose in moments when JoJo’s loyalty is questioned, reminding the viewer that even in a ten year old boy’s head what Hitler’s true character looked like, angry and alone.
Jojo Rabbit has a tough line to walk in its attempt to bridge together comedy and Nazi Germany, but it is successful. The film is funny, and not in a way that will make you feel bad for laughing. For example, JoJo’s best friend, Yorki, played by Archie Yates, is innocently hilarious whenever on screen. Another example being JoJo’s literal interpretation of Jewish stereotypes, such as having horns underneath their hair, which also serves as a taunt to Nazi fanaticism. Taika Waititi, in an interview where he states Schindler’s List as an influence, says he tried to stay away from doing a film that was dramatic, as it wasn’t in his wheelhouse. However, for the scenes where the film does need to get serious, Waititi is able to genuinely create dramatic moments without losing focus of the film’s generally lighter tone. And to think people say there’s no way to make Hitler funny…Ha!
Besides the film not being as laugh-out-loud funny as I thought it could be (the guy who sat behind me would like to beg to differ), my only other flaw is that this satire’s simple message of anti-hate and not judging a book by its cover is one we’ve seen too many times before, and was popularized by Mark Twain years ago. Otherwise, Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a hoot, delivering a WWII film in a way we’ve never seen before, and I applaud him for it. 8.5/10