Everybody has had an invisible pal growing up as a kid...young Jojo's just happens to be Hitler.
"Jojo Rabbit" is a film that is balls-to-the-wall wacky, and may come as a major shock to those not familiar with the previous work of Taika Waititi. The New Zealander has only recently shot up to the Hollywood A-List after directing the high-profile, big-budget Marvel movie, "Thor: Ragnarok," but he's been making profound, quirky comedies for years. Before "Thor: Ragnarok" there was "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" and the vampire mock-umentary "What We Do in the Shadows," but even before those, he directed the film "Boy," which is hands-down the best and funniest movie you've never heard of.
Taking his directing filmography then, it's no surprise that Waititi's "Jojo Rabbit" somehow manages to nimbly balance comedy with Nazi Germany during World War II. Dating back to "Boy," Waititi has always shown a fascination and a kinship with seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and this devilish immaturity (a compliment here) is what he was able to successfully infuse into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With "Jojo Rabbit," it's the first time since Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" where a film has been able to tug at the heartstrings while simultaneously finding humor during one of the worst man-made catastrophes in human history.
But Waititi's movie also owes greatly to the comedy of Mel Brooks, who once said about Hitler: "If you can make fun of him, if you can have people laugh at him, you win." The comedic vein of "Jojo Rabbit" is much more of a lampoon than anything "Life Is Beautiful" was trying to do, with Waititi himself playing the infamous dictator as a neurotic goofball, who exists only in the mind of an impressionable young German boy, named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis). When Jojo discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) living in his walls, hidden there by his German mother (Scarlett Johansson), they form the unlikeliest of all friendships in the face of the Nazi's downfall towards the end of the war.
Waititi makes this a sharp satire with his usual brand of wit, and it's tone is a juggling act that few could have pulled off. Like Mel Brooks might have fashioned it, nearly every Nazi that makes it onto the screen is poked fun at. There's the nefarious Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), who keeps getting demoted down the Nazi chain of command, and his flamboyant assistant, Finkel (Alfie Allen). There's Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who has "pushed out 18 little Nazis for her motherland." There's the sinister Deertz (Stephen Merchant) and his entourage of Jew-hunters. There's Jojo’s chubby little buddy Yorki, an 11-year-old who enlists in the army and is accepted due to the general desperation of Germany as they faced annihilation. And atop of it all, there's the fictitious Hitler, who Jojo sees, talks to and gets advice from, as he tries to make sense of the world around him, and the things he's had force-fed into his little brain.
But then, in the background, there is the real atrocity. Jews are regularly hung out in the middle of the square to be made examples. There is the rigorous propaganda machine that exists only to foster hate. There are explosions, deaths and decapitations. Somehow, Waititi shows this with an innocence of a young lad who doesn't know what context to place it all in. The more I think about it, the more outstanding I think it is that Waititi didn't, in fact, go full "Springtime for Hitler" with the material.
What's left from the ashes is a story about acceptance, friendship and commonality. Some of it does end up landing a bit on the nose, but this story feels right in Waititi's wheelhouse. "Jojo Rabbit" is quick and light on its feet, and it's the feel-good Nazi movie of the century.
Genre: Comedy, History, Drama, War.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Based on the novel "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunens.
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant.
Written and Directed by Taika Waititi ("Thor: Ragnarok," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," "What We Do in the Shadows," "Boy").
"Jojo Rabbit" opens theatrically on Friday, November 1st, 2019.
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