As a Jewish person, I rarely get moved by Hollywood’s depiction of my people’s struggles, especially as almost all of them center on World War 2. Taika Waititi, a New Zealand native of Jewish descent, tells a story to make me proud by touching on the subject with grace, intelligence, and adding something new to the table. JoJo Rabbit is the most important film I have seen all year, and any sane, anti-Nazi must flood the theaters to support this hilarious and thought-provoking masterpiece.
Johannes Betzler or as his bullies call him, Jojo Rabbit (Roman Griffin Davis) is a troubled ten-year old Nazi during World War 2. He discovers his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) who manages to get a role in a movie that is not Asian, has kept a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the wall of his deceased sister’s bed room. The young boy’s world is flipped upside down, the only way to cope with bullies and his mother’s secret is to lean on his imaginary representation of his hero, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). On paper, this is as wacky as can be while having surprising punches to the gut for an emotional balance.
Davis, McKenzie, and Johansson all have a deep, complex chemistry. Davis’ protagonist feels torn as he loves his darling mother, but she is an anti-Nazi who is hiding a Jewish girl, crossing the line for young Jojo, and making me fall in love with her. Meanwhile, he develops a relationship with this girl he hates and knows his government demands for any information gets reported.
The trio of stars all put on stellar performances, especially Davis who steals scenes with some of his wholesome viewpoints, then turns sinister with his warped mindset on what people deserve to live happy lives and those who don’t.
Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) is the necessary cherry on top. The man is in charge of training children into soldiers for Hitler’s army. His drunk antics while having a deeper sense of what is happening in Germany allows him to rise above being a forgettable character.
Yorki (Archie Yates) is Jojo’s best friend. He brings out a cuteness that is welcome throughout every time he pops up on-screen. Damn Nazis making children irresistibly adorable.
Plenty of other talent went to waste, sadly. Klenzendorf’s right hand man and woman, Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) are almost forgettable. Allen gets plenty of screen time without any lines, making him someone who uses up more space than delivering any substance, a complete misuse of his abilities. Wilson is a surprise as I normally cannot stomach her usual roles, but the few moments with her are hysterical.
Waititi impressively directs and writes wonderfully while having a key role in most of the plot. His Hitler is hilarious and disturbingly charismatic while representing how prejudices grows within a society, especially when dealing with children. He takes on the controversial role of one of the most evil people in history and manages to be respectful to those who died, and a giant middle finger to Nazi scum.
Diving into Nazi Germany is a beautifully haunting scene. The architecture and landscapes are eye candy, but the swastikas and hanging victims cause a weird feeling of regret to enjoy the delightful side of the visuals.
Balancing tone when making a comedy out of one of the worst times in human history. The humor lands on its feet every time to impress the most grudging Olympic judges. The drama knows when to step in to remind viewers of its important message and that the Holocaust is a tragedy. The two have a symbiotic relationship that works perfectly.
The obvious, satirical anti-hate point is made even before sitting in a theater. Waititi goes deeper as war does more harm than what’s on the surface. His focus on the damages it can do to a child’s innocence and the systemic side of prejudices makes for a hardy meal to digest.
Jojo Rabbit flies by and is something that can easily be rewatched a countless amount of times. Despite some German accents that fall out into other countries, the acting is top-notch. I cannot compare Waititi’s film and his inspiration, the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, but it sure has sold me on putting that on my reading list after watching one of the best films of the year.
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Images via Fox Searchlight