Most of the films that focus on World War II and Nazi Germany tend to look at it from the perspective of the Allied front. Pearl Harbor, the storming of the beach in Normandy, and many more aspects of WWII have been covered over and over in film and on TV. Leave it to director Taika Waititi to take this sobering material and create something youthful, comedic and emotional. Our Jojo Rabbit movie review delves into what makes this film so special, and why it may soon stand atop the long line of WWII films that have released over the years.
Jojo Rabbit is loosely based on the Christine Leunens book, Caging Skies. In standard Taika Waititi fashion, he took the subject matter of the book and created a satirical, yet emotional version of it. The film centers around Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10 year-old boy living in Nazi Germany in 1945 who dreams of becoming a Nazi. He idolizes Hitler the same way many boys his age would idolize a sports figure or movie star. Throughout the film he interacts with his imaginary friend, who is Hitler (Taika Waititi) in his mind.
The film begins with Jojo going off to a Nazi summer camp of sorts, where we meet Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), and Jojo’s best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates). Almost every time Jojo leaves his home he interacts with these three individuals with truly entertaining results. It’s easy to tell that everyone involved in this film is just having fun with their roles. Rebel Wilson seems to be putting on her normal comedic song and dance (whether you find that good or bad), but everyone else seemed to really dive into their respective roles and had fun with the parts, which really comes out in each performance.
Scarlett Johansson gets into the mix as Jojo’s mother, Rosie. Jojo’s farther is off doing war-time things, which leaves Rosie to take care of Jojo on her own. The scenes with Jojo and his mother are some of the most emotional of the film. For such a satirical film, it has a lot of heart and emotion thanks to the moving performances of both Roman Griffin Davis and Scarlett Johansson. Thomasin McKenzie playing the Jewish-born Elsa adds a lot of emotional substance to the film, as well as having a direct impact on Jojo’s character arc.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Jojo Rabbit, but many of the best scenes are (selfishly?) reserved for the director himself. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who think Hitler was a fun person. However, Waititi isn’t playing a historical version of Hitler. Instead, he’s playing Jojo’s imaginary friend Hitler, who is essentially Hitler through the eyes of a 10 year-old boy. This viewpoint brings a whole new dynamic to the character, and actually makes him a pleasantly entertaining addition to the film. While almost every character in the film has a number of genuinely fun scenes, most will find it difficult to hold a straight face through any of Hitler’s scenes.
For some, Jojo Rabbit will be a little too satirical. Others may be off-put by the frequent emotional cues that keep the film partially grounded and remind the audience that this is still Nazi Germany in the 1940s. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson and Mel Brooks, Jojo Rabbit is the perfect blend of these two comedic talents, with a splash of emotion and heart that will keep you invested throughout. Some of the jokes won’t be for everyone, but there’s a lot to enjoy no matter what your comedic preference may be.
Score: 9 out of 10
Plot: Johannes "Jojo" Betzler is a ten year old boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II. Jojo is extremely patriotic and talks frequently with his imaginary friend: a supportive yet childish version of Adolf Hitler. He lives alone with his caring mother, Rosie, as his father is serving in the German military and his older sister Inga has recently died of influenza.
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell
Length: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes
Release Date: 10/25/2019