Movie Review: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is delightfully one of the year’s best films
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Christine Leunens (novel), Taika Waititi (screenplay)
Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell
Synopsis: A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
Taika Waitit is currently my favorite director and his 2016 movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of my favorite movies of all time. When I first heard about Jojo Rabbit, I was beyond excited. Unfortunately, I don’t live in an “indie film” friendly area and had to wait two weeks longer than many of my movie reviewing colleagues to see it. Luckily, I was able to avoid any major spoilers, and Jojo Rabbit was well worth the wait.
Jojo Rabbit is the story of a 10-year-old boy actively participating in the Hitler Youth, whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is innocent and is eager to be accepted by his peers. He wholeheartedly believes the propaganda of Nazi Germany. His single-mother (Scarlett Johansson) tries to teach him to be a good person and not immediately believe everything he is being told in her own subtle way. One day while his mother is out, Jojo discovers Elsa, a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) living in his walls. He is torn between his blind loyalty to his country’s regime and wanting to learn more about her.
I loved this film. It’s the perfect blend of a “coming of age” movie, a drama, and a comedy. It’s officially the only movie about Nazis I want to watch more than once. I enjoy stories that take a familiar angle and twist it. We’ve seen hundreds of WWII films from the American soldier or Jewish family perspective. What isn’t done often, is a German child’s perspective. Children are innocent; they don’t hate. They do as they are told and often mimic what they see from the adults in their lives. I loved Jojo’s innocence – all he wants is to fit in with the other kids. When his views on what he’s been told is “correct” are challenged, he handles the issues in an interesting way. Propaganda tells him Jews are bad – they sleep upside down like bats and can read his mind. When Jojo meets Elsa, he becomes confused and questions what he’s been taught. He works through this conflict by arguing with himself and his weird imaginary friend, Hitler (Taika Waititi). The conversations between Jojo and imaginary Hitler are some of my favorite scenes. Waititi’s portrayal of the infamous dictator is a hilarious parody with a child-like immaturity. Their conversations are what you would expect an internal struggle of a 10-year-old to sound like. The film is a much-needed satire of hate and bigotry and its message is as relevant in today’s world as it would have been during WWII. Taika Waititi was able to direct an amazing film showing how ridiculous and absurd it is to hate people for being different, make us laugh at the idea that this behavior is/was considered normal, all while prancing around, dressed as one of the worst people in history. If that doesn’t earn him an Oscar nomination, I don’t know what will.
Jojo Rabbit is extraordinary in many ways. The cast is phenomenal, every role in the film was well executed. Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchant all have supporting roles as Nazis with odd personalities and they all work well on screen. I don’t think I’ve seen another film recently that has that many outrageous characters that coexist harmoniously in one film. (Maybe the 1985 movie Clue?) This was Roman Griffin Davis’ first professional acting job and he carries the movie well. He holds his own while sharing the screen with award winning actors. The movie is beautifully shot, even if something is ridiculous (like Hitler leaping through gracefully through the air) is happening on screen, it still looks amazing. I would love to see Jojo Rabbit get some Oscar nominations, hopefully wins. I can see at least nominations in Best Adaptive Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director, and possibly Best Supporting Actress (Thomasin McKenzie).
I have almost no criticism for this film. My only complaint is the lack of information about two characters who don’t actually appear in the film. Not much is said about Jojo’s sister and father and I wanted to know more about them. I’m sure if I read the book this film is based on (Caging Skies by Christine Leunens), I would learn more. The only other thing I could find wrong with this movie was that there was one instance where the incorrect version of the American flag was used. The first American flag shown in the film was a 50-star flag which wasn’t adopted until 1960, the second time we see the flag it is the historically accurate 48-star version. Other than those small things, I couldn’t think of any negative criticisms.
Jojo Rabbit has earned a place at the top of my “Best Movies of 2019” list. It’s a wonderful story, told from a new angle I think would appeal to many audiences. It brilliantly shows us how ridiculous it is to hate one another through the eyes of a child brainwashed by one of the worst regimes in recent history. Comedy is a great tool to cover uncomfortable subjects and Taika Waititi excels here. I’m interested to see how it does come awards season and encourage everyone to see it if you have the chance.
Overall Grade: A+
Hear our podcast review on Episode 348: