I think we can all agree that Nazis are bad, right? In this world where ignorance still lives in the dark corners of today’s world, we all seek moments of positivity to shine through. Light, laughter, and love helps us get through those times when hate enters the scene. The genre of Holocaust and World War II humor has been largely, and thankfully, sparse.
Taika Waititi takes a huge swing with Jojo Rabbit – a bold piece of Third Reich playfulness that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did; especially since it’s about a boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler. I’m here to say that the swing paid off.
This review is spoiler-free
Written and Directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of the title character (played by Roman Griffin Davis), a Hitler youth who finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. This act makes Jojo question his beliefs, while dealing with the occasional intervention of his imaginary friend, a parody of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
At the age of ten, Jojo earnestly wishes to become the best fascist he can be; a proud defender of the Motherland and a developing hatred for Jews… just because it’s cool. But when he attends a youth camp, helmed by a sauntering one-eyed officer named Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his crew of bumbling underlings (including Rebel Wilson and Game of Thrones‘ Alfie Allen), among the book burning and handling Hitler Youth knives, Jojo finds himself at the bottom of his class. When an incident forces his mother to take him out of camp and to stay at home more, an encouraging pep talk with his imaginary Hitler leads him to discover his mother’s secret in the attic: a young Jewish stowaway named Elsa. This discovery leads Jojo down a path he didn’t even know existed, while dismantling some ideas on his own.
To some viewers, I can see how Waititi’s film is kind of a smug, Wes Anderson-like take on a subject that most people wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – find humor in. There were times I was watching the film where I was laughing, even though I knew it was offensive and the back of my mind was yelling “It’s not supposed to be funny!”. But there was a beauty in this dramedy that made me smile. Maybe it was the performances of Davis and McKenzie that caught me off-guard. Waititi’s talent and strange, black humor is what made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok one of the most absurd, but successful films in the superhero canon and The Hunt for the Wilder-People an enjoyable movie to pop in. Even at its boldest, there is a strange, sweet humor in his storytelling that this film maintains even when the tone shifts. And it does.
The final scene is beautiful, reminding you that life is precious and to enjoy the small moments you have with the people around you. It’s a joyful declaration that feels universal that we should all hear. All hail Taika Waititi for hitting this black comedy pitch out of the park as one of the best films of the year!
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