Taika Waititi’s “JoJo Rabbit is boldly creative, completely original, smart, sharply written and is one of my favorite and best films of the year. I loved every minute of it. In the lead role is 7 year old Roman Griffin Davis, who is utterly exceptional as JoJo and presents himself as mature, that is way beyond his years. Director and writer Taika Waititi plays Adolf as a ball of comedic genius, while clearly his inspiration was Charlie Chaplin including one film in particular… It’s a dazzling achievement from a supremely talented artist who wrote, directed and costars in the film.
World War II films where one of your main characters is Adolf Hitler offering words of encouragement to a 10 year old boy, isn’t supposed to be funny, charming or heartwarming. Writer, actor and director Taika Waititi turns the genre on it’s head in the best Nazi satire since comedy legend Charlie Chaplin’s 1940’s masterpiece “The Great Dictator”.
“JoJo Rabbit” is based on a novel by Christine Leunens, while the film is scripted by Taika Waititi. His film is boldly creative, completely original, smart, sharply written and is one of my favorite and best films of the year. I loved every minute of it.
Waititi takes on the difficult task of “JoJo Rabbit” being a farce about Nazi Germany, with Adolf Hitler depicted in a purely clownish way. It’s Waititi, who steals the scenes and scores laughs as Adolf. His script also respects the reality of wartime loss as he does an impressive job committing to his wild and crazy satirical ideas without compromising the feature.
As World War II rages on, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old boy proud and anxious to join the ranks of Nazi Youth in Germany, with his education overseen by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). Jojo is without a father, and he’s lost his older sister, finding comfort in his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), who becomes JoJo’s guiding force for Nazi life, which JoJo desperately wants to belong to.
After a grenade accident, Jojo is left with a bum leg and facial scarring, returning to the care of his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who brings JoJo home, where he tries to live a life of anger and hate. However, Jojo’s beliefs are challenged by the discovery of Elsa (Tomasin McKenzie), a 17-year-old Jewish girl his mother has hidden behind her bedroom wall, providing safety for the teenager as the country goes mad. At first threatening Elsa with exposure, JoJo soon fashions a friendship with her, reconsidering his Nazi life.
If all seems offensive and unbearable, I assure you it isn’t. Waititi treads carefully, focusing on stranger moments and encounters and getting to know the films great characters. In the lead role is 7 year old Roman Griffin Davis, who is utterly exceptional as JoJo. When tasked to hold the picture on his own, Davis is up to the task and presents himself as if he was a seasoned actor with years of experience. Davis seems mature way beyond his years.
Taika Waititi has said he took on the role of Hitler because there wasn’t exactly a long list of name actors interested in playing Hitler. Waititi plays Adolf with a wonky mustache and wide-eyed glare that makes him look like if he were one of the Stooges. Hitler is a massive goofball whose encouraging words and ridiculous antics that highlight the absurdity of the Third Reich’s rigid agenda. He eats unicorn for dinner, dives out of windows like if he were superman and reinforces Jojo’s belief that all Jews are hideous monsters with horns on their heads.
Waititi’s comedic timing is brilliant, stealing every scene he is in and bringing on the comedy full blast. I’m sure another film critic has already used this and while I did mention it earlier. It’s hard to deny and not mention that there is obvious influences from the comedies of Charlie Chaplin. Especially Chaplin’s masterful film “The Great Dictator”. It’s Chaplin meets Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Life Aquatic” and “Rushmore”).
Scarlett Johansson who is having one heck of a career (her masterclass acting in Netflix’s “Marriage Story” is Oscar worthy). Here she is again turning in one of the best performances of her career as JoJo’s mother, who will do anything to protect her son, but is also willing to risk her life every day as part of the underground effort to rid her homeland of its poisonous regime.
Academy Award winner Sam Rockwell, has cornered the market on playing authority wielding bigots who have just a trace of a human heartbeat still lurking inside (see his performances in “Three Billboards” and “The Best of Enemies”), returns to that persona once again as Jojo’s camp commander. Rockwell is the one eyed, ridiculous and monumentally incompetent Captain Klenzendorf who has little interest in training children. He keeps himself even with nips from a flask and the company of his right-hand man (Alfie Allen), dreaming of a day when he can wear a flamboyant uniform into battle.
“JoJo Rabbit” is not a battle-worn, grimy combat film or one with a political position of observance. It’s the experience of war through the eyes of a 10 year old kid. Waititi establishes tonality during the opening titles, where Jojo sprints through his village streets, eager to participate in military order while a German-language version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” plays. It captures the excitement of the moment and the dangerous growth of Hitler’s popularity, with Waititi finding a way to reconsider the Nazi’s leader position in a way that’s ridiculous and true.
There are numerous laughs in “Jojo Rabbit”, most coming from Waititi’s dry style and love of weirdness. He finds places to be silly with the irrationality of war, while keeping a serious side to the picture as well. He knows when to be funny, serious or heartfelt. Waititi achieves some powerful moments between the characters, with crushing visual motifs and wonderful performances.
That’s the marvel of “JoJo Rabbit” because it ricochets from outlandish comedy to drama and back again in the blink of an eye. Waititi makes Hitler and his lieutenants look ridiculous but never mocks the impact of their ugly regime.
There is cool selection of pop tunes, most of which are presented in alternate versions recorded in German by artists like The Beatles, Roy Orbison and David Bowie.“JoJo Rabbit” focuses on an innocent child as were seeing the story through his eyes. Waititi humanizes the experience of living under Nazism. It’s a dazzling achievement from a supremely talented artist who wrote, directed and costars in the film. This is one of the years most brilliant films.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4 & 1/2 out of 5)