If you are starting to read this asking what the fuck JOJO RABBIT is, you’ve probably seen some marketing of the film regarding a small boy that has childish version of Adolf Hitler as an imaginary friend. Have an inkling now? Okay, here we go. The movie is absolutely delightful, funny, yet devastating and smart. Just as the advertising will tell you, it is an anti-hate satire, and while I was afraid it was going to nail those messages on the head without the audience letting them figure out for itself, I’m thankful that it only had a little of that, and didn’t treat people as if they were idiots. It is considered to be an Oscar contender, and I’d say deservedly so, especially for writing based on another medium, and for Scarlett Johansson for a best supporting actress nomination, heck I’d even support a Best Picture nod at this moment . While the film deals mainly with a big even in human beings checkered pasts (the Holocaust), it is something we can then relate to the events of today. It tries to get into the viewers head with not just straight up messages and information, but also providing genuine laughs and well earned heart to earn your respect.
Jojo Rabbit’s plot is pretty simple. Along with the imaginary Adolf Hitler angle presented before, this movie starts out with the little boy going to a Hitler Youth Nazi training camp, run by an oafish Captain, played spot-on by Sam Rockwell. The little boy’s mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is secretly anti Nazi, wishing that her boy would view the world through her eyes. One day while the mother is away, the boy hears noises upstairs and inside the walls of his home. There he finds a Jewish girl, who his mother is secretly hiding. While they each can’t really tell on each other for reasons that will lead everyone to certain death, he starts to tolerate the older Jewish girl in his life and home, and well, you can probably see where the film goes character arc wise from there. The boy wrestles with his feelings for Jewish people throughout the whole film, all the while World War II comes dwindling to an end.
The satire here completely works. Writer/director Taika Waititi (Thor 3, What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) has crafted an amazing tale, easily making it his best film thus far. He also plays the goofy, cartoon like childish Adolf Hitler in the film, and provides most of the films huge laughs. Now, I have to warn you, the humor may not be for everyone, but seeing how I am reviewing it on a personal level, I think if you step back to look at the bigger picture and not get offended at every single damn thing there is to get offended about, you will realize the jokes are witty, precise, and all land on their feet. The movie has some hilariously amazing sequences and visuals. If you want a little insight on how Taika Waititi’s vision works, think of Wes Anderson films, but a little less symmetrical and definitely more fluid (don’t worry, I still think of Anderson as a very good filmmaker). Although I was worried at the very beginning as it kind of copies Edgar Wright’s fast “getting ready” sequences. You’ll see. Thankfully it was more of an homage and only does it that once. The best sequence in the film comes 2/3rds of the way into the movie, involving Stephen Merchant and a bunch of other Nazi’s invading the little boys home to do a search. The scene is artfully, masterfully, hilariously perfect. It provides laughs mixed with just the right amount of tension to keep you on the edge of your seat. I have a feeling that Waititi, when shooting this, knew that this was the centerpiece of his movie.
Now mind you, the movie isn’t all laughs. There are a couple of sad sequences, including a devastating punch in the gut sequence that I saw coming from a mile away but still hit me hard enough to the point where I had a giant lump in my throat. It visually kicks you in the nut feels and I don’t know how people are going to respond to it. The scene is set up from the beginning with several visual cues. Remember the age old film saying, “if you show something of importance in act one, it must come back at the end of act two, or somewhere in act three.” To be honest, I’m paraphrasing, as that saying is really supposed to be about showing a gun or weapon, but when you see the movie you’ll get what I mean. My point is that the movie mixes everything you could want in a movie (drama, action, laughter, etc) pretty damn near perfectly. And the film is exceptionally entertaining, never leaving the viewer a chance to doze off into boredom.
The acting here is also what elevates the impact of the movie. Playing the boy is a young actor named Roman Griffin Davis, his first role, and he nails every character beat that he needs to. I look forward to his work in the future. Sam Rockwell plays the Captain of the Hitler Youth Nazi Camp, and as we all know Sam Rockwell is good at playing a really bad racist, there is more to his character here that meets the eye, and the film does a fine job of hinting what that “more” is without completely peeling back the entire curtain for the audience. Rebel Wilson has never been better and Taiki Waiti steals a couple of huge laugh scenes as the cartoonish imaginary Adolf Hitler, but the two women that completely steal the movie from everyone involved would be Scarlett Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie, the latter playing the hidden Jewish girl in the boys home. Thomasin plays the girl with bravado, combining strength with uncertainty and vulnerability, scared that she might not be hidden for long, facing certain death, but also trying to change the hateful, racist thinking of this young boy.
But the one who is truly probably going to get a supporting nomination in the end is Scarlett Johansson as the boy’s mother. She is the true heart of the movie, her anti-hate speeches and talks with her son are the witty, yet serious highlights of the film. Scarlett Johansson nails the accent and visual comedy cues that is integral in making her character unique. And she is surprisingly in the film more than I thought she’d be, considering she is the “and” on the poster, which was delightful because she shined in every scene. But yeah, if you are an awards season obsessed honcho like myself, Jojo Rabbit is a must see for the awards season to come. It provides almost everything you look for in a movie, but instead of being just a copy cat of satire you’ve probably seen in many film before it, this has its own unique voice, separating itself from the pack and shining triumphant.