Jojo Rabbit is the story of a 10-year old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who near the end of World War II has dreams of being in Hitler’s army and possesses what one Gestapo officer (Stephen Merchant) describes gleefully as “blind fanaticism.” Guiding Jojo on his path towards Hitler youth is his imaginary friend, the Führer himself (Taika Waititi) who always offers “words of encouragement.” However, when one day Jojo discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been harboring a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home, he begins to question the world around him.
What works in Jojo Rabbit is the apt handling of history and tone. Making a comedy about Adolf Hitler and Nazis could easily come off as insensitive. But, while taking on triple duty as screenwriter, director, and performer, Waititi imbues a tremendous amount of respect regarding the causalities and impact of war by not discounting them but rather choosing the unique lens of looking at events through the eyes of a naïve and innocent German child. Because the characters in Jojo Rabbit are complex, robust, and deep, the film is able to elicit laughs by having those on-screen simply act normal which in this case includes reflection on the absurdity of the situation.
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This is achieved primarily given the combination of Waititi’s direction and the superb supporting cast. It would be hard to name an MVP in Jojo Rabbit because each person in Jojo’s life represents a different viewpoint or ideal, and often these perspectives are constantly evolving and/or in direct conflict. And herein lies the beauty of Jojo Rabbit—Waititi pushes the majority of the surrounding characters to somewhat extreme lengths into ridiculous positions. For example, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) plays a one-eyed former military commander who can no longer serve on the frontline but (somewhat ironically) can see the end of the war is near and his side will lose. So, when Klenzendorf is charged with training the next round of kid soldiers he does so with hilarious thinly-veiled sarcasm and apathy. Waititi correctly realizes it’s often not what you say but how it is said.
For individuals who feel that depicting these awful events with levity is disrespectful, that is a perfectly valid stance, but those people may not enjoy Jojo Rabbit as much as others. Although, it is important to note, Jojo Rabbit is not all humor, and Waititi does provide a balance and his own message and perspective about the horrors of following orders or assumptions in the absence of logic or facts. While there is comedy, there is also consequence.
Jojo Rabbit is a uniquely warm, entertaining, and thoughtful piece of cinema. Waititi continues to chart his own path as a filmmaker who can deftly blend genres to create new pieces of art—art that might subjectively divide some watchers but is undeniably fresh and wholly original.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Captain Fantastic, Inglorious Basterds,
FINAL GRADE: A
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