Release Date: October 18, 2019
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson
Synopsis: A young boy searches for acceptance in the ranks of the Nazi army, all the while balancing his mother’s resistance, a deadly secret, and his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler.
Rating: 3.5/4 Stars
[The following is a spoiler-free review written by guest movie critic, Ashton Pacholski]
Adolf Hitler. Ruthless German politician. Infamous leader of the Nazi party. A little boy’s imaginary friend…? Only Taika Waititi could realize the latter, showcasing incredible deft and humor when dealing with any subject. From voyeuring with dubious vampires (What We Do in the Shadows), to rocking with the gods of Asgard (Thor: Ragnarok), Waititi has crafted another classic with his newest film Jojo Rabbit, a hilarious coming-of-age story set in war-torn Germany. A questionable setting for the genre, but nevertheless—in the right hands—a perfect canvas for the film’s poignant takeaway.
The story centers around Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis)—a ten-year-old, Nazi-loving boy—whose main passion in life is to become one of Hitler’s closest confidants. Jojo, with high hopes of climbing the ladder of The Third Reich, enters a special training program for young boys, helmed by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). And showing the boy support on his heroic journey to bravery is none other than the imaginative Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi)…and yes, you read that correctly. Moving from a series of humorous events to the next, kept afloat by Waititi’s kinetic pace, Jojo is landlocked to his village—having to show support from the home front. And it isn’t until all things get quiet that Jojo hears something shuffling around in his walls. Hidden within his home, Jojo finds something that could light his whole world on fire: a potential flame in the shape of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a runaway Jewish teen.
Now, to address the elephant in the room…wearing a swastika…it’s no easy feat to combine Hitler and comedy. And don’t get me wrong, I had my reservations as well. However, Waititi has utilized the notion of imagination to critique, and in no way, shape, or form, generate sympathy for this character. Brilliantly portrayed by himself, Waititi hyperbolizes the myopic idiocracy of this figure, harkening back to the greatness of Chaplin (e.g. The Great Dictator). And noting the film’s humor, leading actor Roman Griffin Davis provides an Oscar-worthy performance: balancing humor, tragedy, and catharsis all on his little shoulders. Others in the cast, including Scarlett Johansson (Jojo’s mother) and Thomasin McKenzie, bring an emotional levity to the film, while others—those “noteworthy” for their humor—sometimes detract from the film’s overall resonance.
A touching film about the power of change, Jojo Rabbit is a compelling story that at times had me laughing out of my seat, at times speechless, and at times reflective. With beautiful cinematography, and wonderful dialogue that echoes the greatness of Mamet, here’s a film that utilizes one of history’s darkest hours to teach us all a valuable lesson: “to err is human.” Now, the title might dismay some reticent movie-goers, but let me reiterate something: Jojo Rabbit is cinema at its most creative. A brilliantly conceived rabbit hole—pun intended—that Waititi invites viewers into with masterful and hilarious grace.
Jojo Rabbit is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.