By Kevin Hoskinson
Director Taika Waititi’s last outing as director attempted to inject some fun into a superhero franchise that was known for its melodramatic and dark tone. It turns out he has a knack for it, as “Thor: Ragnarok” is regarded as the best film in the franchise so far, and it cemented him as a filmmaker to watch. Now, Waititi is following up the success of Ragnarok with a film set during the horrors of WWII, while also attempting to inject his brand of humor and fun into the proceedings. And although it sounds like an impossible task, Taika has proven that the light can be found, even in the darkest of times.
Jojo Rabbit is about Johannes “Jojo” Beltzer (Roman Griffith Davis), a Hitler Youth member who isn’t the toughest kid on the block. He is on a mission to prove that he has what it takes to be a good Nazi, and he does so with the help of his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (Taika Waititi). Things get complicated when Johannes finds out his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in their attic. This leads him to question his beliefs while being a child raised during a time of hatred and fear.
Jojo Rabbit is a beautifully imagined film. It’s a film that straddles the line between satire and human drama so perfectly. Although the basic concept of the film might sound a bit silly, and maybe even a bit out there, it’s genius and works on so many levels.
There are so many things to love about this film, but for starters, Hitler and Jojo’s exchanges are hilarious. There is something about it that feels genuine and human. Having the voice of your hero inside of your head is something that many of us do daily, and Jojo’s hero happens to be (misguidedly) Adolf Hitler. It’s the equivalent of a writer imaging Stephen King, or a painter hearing Picasso; it’s just what happens. In a way, you can’t blame young Jojo. He is surrounded by the rhetoric everywhere he goes; it’s all he knows. He’s a good kid with a big heart, and he wants to do what is right. He’s never met someone Jewish before, that he knows of, so everything he has been brainwashed to believe makes sense. Looking back and remembering history, you can’t help but feel bad for him, and Davis pulls it all off perfectly
Scarlett Johanssen gives a powerful performance as Jojo’s mom Rosie. She believes the only thing that can overcome hate is love, and she carries that flame throughout the film. Secretly, she works for the rebels in Germany, trying to take down the Nazis. It builds an interesting dynamic between her and her son, with their different ideologies eventually coming to a head. Also, the chemistry she has with Davis is undeniable; they become mother and son here. It’s a fantastic thing, and she is flawless.
McKenzie is brilliant as Elsa; she’s understandably scared and builds an unusual bond with Rosie, and eventually Jojo as well. Waititi gives an oddly fun and hilarious performance as Adolf, a portrayal that I’m sure would have him rolling in his grave. Archie Yates plays Jojo’s only real friend Yorki, and he is hilarious. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson round out the fantastic cast.
For being based in such a dark period in history, the film itself is bright and colorful. The whole thing has a Wes Anderson feel to it, a recognizable reality, with an exaggerated lens over it. It is very familiar, but never feels quite right, and it works so well. It’s almost dreamlike in a beautiful way. The way the characters move and talk are unique to this world, but it’s believable. The whole thing is a wonder to behold.
Written by Waititi, and based on the novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit is smart, irreverent, very funny, and has a huge heart. The subject matter may be a bit taboo for comedy, but this is far from the first time a filmmaker has dared to do it. Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and, more recently, Quentin Tarantino have put their spins on the era, and they did so with excellent results. And while this film has come under some criticism with some saying it glorifies Nazis, that isn’t true. It’s a movie about how hate is taught and the dangers of spreading horrible rhetoric. It’s sad, but it’s a lesson that some can learn right now. Definitely check this film out!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Kevin Hoskinson is a writer with a deep-seeded love for movies, comic books, television and the paranormal. From humble beginnings working the box office at his local movie theater, he’s worked his way to becoming a humble family man and professional bug exterminator. Growing up, he wanted to become an astronaut, a Ghostbuster, a dinosaur, and a Disney animator before he found his passion for writing as a teen. He studied film at Los Angeles Valley College with an emphasis on screenwriting and film criticism. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two kids. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter @Kevin_Hoskinson, and Instagram @kevinhoskinson.