Jojo Rabbit Review
'Jojo Rabbit' goes from laughter to tears at the drop of a hat.
Release Date: November 1, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG-13
A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriters: Taikai Waititi, Christine Leunens
Producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo), Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa), Scarlett Johansson (Rosie), Taika Waititi (Adolf), Sam Rockwell (Captain Klenzendorf), Rebel Wilson (Fraulin Rahm), Alfie Allen (Finkel), Archie Yates (Yorki), Stephen Merchant (Deertz), Luke Brandon Field (Christoph), Sam Haygarth (Hans)
Editor: Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya
Cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Production Designer: Ra Vincent
Casting Directors: Des Hamilton, Maya Kvetny
Music Score: Michael Giacchino
They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. But how much time does it take? What’s the statute of limitations on something like, say, Nazis? Writer/director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarock, What We Do in the Shadows) is hoping it’s about 75 years with Jojo Rabbit.
Taking place at the tail end of World War II, Jojo Rabbit is about a ten-year-old boy named Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis in his film debut) in Nazi Germany who, like much of the rest of his country, is all about the Nazi Party. He’s even got Adolf Hitler (Waititi himself) as an oafish imaginary friend who provides guidance and support as the boy gleefully tromps his way through a Hitler Youth camp led by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
Jojo’s beloved mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson from the Avengers universe), however, is a member of the resistance. One day, Jojo discovers a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie) living in a hidden hollowed-out space under a mantle in his and his mother’s home. He makes friends with the girl, and even develops a crush on her. As his relationship with Elsa blossoms, Jojo is torn between the propaganda that he has been fed by the state and his true feelings for his mother and his new friend.
Adapted by Waititi from the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit takes its viewer on a journey that goes from laughter to tears at the drop of a hat. It deals with its subject in the most tasteful way possible, by giving the audience a child’s eye view of the world, putting on an innocent filter as it looks at dreadfully evil things. There’s a whimsical, Wes Anderson-esque vibe to the movie that hides a sinister, dark underbelly.
The anchor to the movie is the relationship between Jojo and Elsa. On paper, they should be mortal enemies, but because of their ages, they’re not. The same youthful impressionism that has Jojo practicing his Nazi marches and swearing allegiance to Mother Germany is what keeps him from hating Elsa. Although the blind nationalism is programmed into him, the hatred is not. There’s a tug-o-war with Jojo’s loyalties happening between his mother and his country, and even the tough Captain Klenzendorf seems to realize that Jojo is not cut out to be an emotionless SS officer. So, Jojo Rabbit is a sweet coming-of-age story wrapped in the bitter coating of World War II Germany.
And speaking of blind nationalism, it isn’t hard to see parallels between the event of Jojo Rabbit and what’s happening in America today. Granted, the similarities may be unintentional – Waititi is a New Zealander, after all – but they’re there, whether the viewer wants to acknowledge it or not.
Jojo Rabbit is going to be as tough of a watch as its audience wants to make it. It deals with a rough subject, but it does so with heart and humor. And even those who slept through high school history class know that the heroes are the victors. The real arc is Jojo’s miniature redemption story, and it’s a saccharinely satisfying one.
Jojo Rabbit is hysterical, but it’s the kind of black humor that causes the audience to feel a little guilty for laughing. Sam Rockwell’s over-the-top Nazi captain steals the show, from his horrible fake German accent to his self-deprecating heart of gold. And Taika Waititi’s Hitler is…well, hilarious. Whether Waititi didn’t want to ask another actor to play Hitler or he just wanted to save the best role in the film for himself, the decision pays off, because Jojo’s imaginary pal is another big source of comedy. The humor in Jojo Rabbit is constantly making fun of its Nazi subjects, and that’s some saving grace, but it’s still a movie about Nazi Germany. For better or worse, its strength lies in its ability to satirize one of the darkest chapters in world history.