Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo Rabbit

Rating

Director

Taika Waititi

Screenplay

Taika Waititi (Novel: Christine Leunens)

Length

1h 48m

Starring

Roman Griffin Davis, Thomason McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language

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Review

As World War II and the Holocaust that resulted fades farther and farther into history, Jojo Rabbit attempts to keep that history in perspective for new generations who must be reminded of the dangers of fascism or risk allowing another such atrocity to occur.

Taika Waititi’s brazen satire explores Nazism from the perspective of a natively loyal ten-year-old German who is trying to become a part of Hitler’s Youth so that he can live up to the expectations of his imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, personified by Waititi himself. As Jojo, in a wonderful young performance from newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, we come to understand how the insidious notion of nativism can insinuate itself into the psyche of someone who has barely begun to understand the circumstances of his actions and the actions of those around him.

A mishap at a Nazi-training camp for young Germans forces him to reevaluate his life goals and work towards becoming a proper Nazi in a new way. Raised by his mother (Scarlett Johansson) while his father is away fighting in the war, Jojo finds himself caught between a rock and a crawl space when he discovers that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the very walls of his own home. As Jojo tries to find a balance between his Hitlerian loyalties and the love and compassion of his mother, he must find a way to confront or accept the notion that everything he’s been taught about Jews may be flawed or even more likely a lie.

Waititi effortlessly blends satire and pathos using a complicated part of history as his backdrop. Confronting racism and nativism through the eyes of a young boy helps ground his effort to expose the insidious nature of hate and misinformation framed in a historical perspective, but still feeling hauntingly familiar compared to the current political climate in the United States. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk and he does so quite effectively, bringing his once-certain fascist youth around to the notion that perhaps every line of fear and disinformation he has been fed his entire life by a nation at war with its own people was wrong

This fascinating method of framing a coming of age story requires a superb cast to convey its deepest messages and Jojo Rabbit succeeds on all counts. Not only is Davis an affable lead, his co-stars are all incredibly talented and bring differing approaches to the material together in a cohesive whole. Johansson is working at the top of her craft with her maternal performance while Sam Rockwell as a bumbling Nazi captain who hides his own sexuality is also strong. Rebel Wilson gives a hilarious performance as a Nazi enabler with almost all of the funniest lines as do Stephen Merchant as a Raiders of the Lost Ark-styled Nazi investigator, Alfie Allen in a limited role as Rockwell’s clandestine “friend,” Archie Yates as Jojo’s accident-prone young friend, and of course Waititi as the hate-filled comic foil Imaginary Hitler.

Jojo Rabbit is the kind of film that could have come off as crass and self-serving, a kind of Life Is Beautiful for a new generation; however, Waititi manages to find both the humor and the sorrow in a subject matter that has been intensely scrutinized and endlessly explored over the decades. He makes something that is an utterly unique vision of a terrifying period of world history with an ounce of hope squeezed out of a deplorable historical era.

Review Written

February 25, 2020

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