Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a new way to tell a World War II / Nazi story on film, along comes Jojo Rabbit, to serve as both a reminder of a twisted chapter in our not-so-distant past, and a contemporary cautionary tale. In some ways, there’s more to unpack here than in the controversial Joker, though I suspect way fewer people will see it or ‘get it’. Yes, Jojo Rabbit is a strange flick. But it’s also quite thought-provoking and weirdly entertaining, thanks to the direction of Taika Waititi (who pulls triple duty as screenwriter and actor) and a first-rate cast.
I’m generally hit or miss when it comes to appreciating satire. But I’ve been a fan of Waititi since 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. How’s that for range? The guy has a knack for injecting humor and pathos into the most random situations and characters and his films are only as long as they need to be. Jojo Rabbit runs a tight 108 minutes and features a distinctive (German and English) soundtrack that hits all the right notes to permeate and punctuate the satire.
Jojo Rabbit will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a quirky WWII-era coming of age satire about a timid 10-year-old boy named Jojo (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) who is obsessed with all things Nazi and likes to pal around with his loony imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi). Jojo’s warped world view is turned on its head, however, when he discovers that his single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Avengers: Endgame) has been hiding a Jewish teenager (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace) behind a wall in an upstairs bedroom, to protect her from the Nazis. Jojo is appalled, and curious… and smitten.
The supporting cast includes Rebel Wilson (Isn’t It Romantic?), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) in roles that are small yet poignant, horrifying and funny. There’s also a level of sweetness, particularly with another young newcomer, Archie Yates, who plays Jojo’s best friend Yorki, a fellow member of the Hitler Youth who is motivated more by camaraderie than ideology.
Jojo Rabbit is about humanity, sacrifice, good and evil, and what can happen when people swear blind loyalty to a narcissistic, nationalistic nut job. Resistance is not futile; it’s crucial.
The screenplay (by Waititi) is based on the 2008 novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens. Its premise as satire seems far-fetched, and it is. But somehow Waititi pulls it off. It takes a few minutes to settle into the weirdness, but once you do, the pay-off is sublime. And the title will make perfect sense.
[Arty Chick’s two cents: It’s definitely not like any other WW2 flick you’ll see. And the premise is entirely original. But I was really conflicted about laughing at Nazis spewing anti-semitic punchlines. Sure the joke’s on them since they’re all made out to be stupid and silly, and they lose and all, but they killed six million Jews! Yes, Jojo’s invisible friend Herr Hitler is just a funny kid’s version of the monster, and Sam Rockwell’s Nazi officer ends up having a heart, but can the Holocaust really be the background for a comedy, even if it’s satire? I ran into the “but the director is Jewish” excuse for him being allowed to make this kind of film. But I’m not sure that makes it okay. It made me extremely uncomfortable sitting in a theater listening to my fellow audience members laughing at anti-semitism and perhaps that’s his point.
I agree with Mainstream Chick about Waititi’s talents. It is a strange premise he came up with and he mostly pulls it off. And the kid is perfect, as is Scarlett Johansson in a role she must have relished after all her superhero flicks. But still at the end, I was really not sure I could say I liked it, though I do think people should see it.]
Let the debate begin! Comments are welcome, or send us a tweet @chickflixnet with your thoughts on this or any other film!