In comedy, there has always been a fine line between what is funny and what is distasteful. So it is no surprise that a film about a boy growing up in Germany during WWII whose imaginary friend just so happens to be Adolf Hitler would be fairly divisive amongst audiences. But in the case of “Jojo Rabbit,” what could have been a highly-offensive and objectionable movie is instead a heartfelt and thought-provoking satire about war, religion, childhood, and society.
“Jojo Rabbit” follows 10-year-old boy named Jojo who lives with his mother in 1945 Nazi Germany. He is small for his age and also fairly lonely, as his peers in the Hitler Youth reject him. All Jojo wants is to be a Nazi like everyone else around him, which leads him in his lonesome to create his own imaginary friend, a fantasized Adolf Hitler. While trying his best to fit in with those around him, Jojo discovers a Jewish girl living in his house who has been hidden by his mother. Torn between following the status quo of his country and the secret in his home, Jojo is forced to choose sides in a war that he doesn’t really understand.
With a fairly absurd premise, “Jojo Rabbit” perfectly delivers so much in just under two hours. This movie is hysterical and has almost no boundaries with its jokes, which I imagine may offend some. However, many of these jokes are satirical and poke fun at the blind nationalism of the time. While this movie is laugh-out-loud funny, it is not without its serious and quite honestly heart-breaking moments as well. The subject matter may not be dealt with that delicately, but it is instead addressed directly and does not shy away from taking risks, which ends up working in its favor.
What is so brilliant about “Jojo Rabbit” is that it tells the story of an extremely bleak time in world history from the perspective of a sweet little boy. So instead of a completely dark depiction of an otherwise completely dark time, we get glimpses of happiness and positivity as reflected by the narrative point of view of a 10-year-old who doesn’t understand and recognize the evils that surround him. What I also think is important to note is that this movie does not try to glorify Nazis or exonerate them in any way, but instead it shows how a boy who is too young to comprehend what is happening around him can be so easily influenced by peer pressure and the desire to conform.
This movie features several memorable performances that help to deliver such a powerful message. Scarlett Johansson plays Jojo’s mother Rosie, who detests the Nazis and is secretly sheltering a Jewish girl in her home. Johansson’s performance is all parts charming and endearing, and I would not be surprised if she were to receive award consideration in the months to come. Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Alfie Allen play outlandish caricatures of Nazi officers, whom Jojo looks up to. Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie play Jojo and Elsa respectively, both giving impressive performances. And lastly, the imaginary version of Hitler is played by Taiki Waititi, who deserves the most recognition of them all.
This review could not be complete without acknowledging the man behind “Jojo Rabbit” and who is wholly responsible for its brilliance: none other than Taiki Waititi. He directed, wrote, produced, and starred in this movie. Waititi is Jewish himself, making this film even more personal for him and rather ironic when considering he is the one playing Jojo’s imaginary version of Adolf Hitler. Waititi poured his heart into this movie and it shows, as it really is one of the most touching films I’ve seen in all of 2019.
I enjoyed everything about this movie. It never shies away from the controversial subject matter, yet it deals with it all in a dignified way. With what is arguably my favorite screenplay of this year, “Jojo Rabbit” perfectly balances comedy and the more somber elements of the plot. It is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in recent memory and also one of the most heartbreaking. It is the closest thing to “Life is Beautiful” (1997) I can imagine, and I both hope and expect that this movie will win rightfully deserved awards and receive accolades for delivering such a unique, original, and emotionally moving story. “Jojo Rabbit” is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of the year, and it is one I highly recommend to all, as it expands to more theaters across the country.
Cover Photo: IMDB