By Kaylee Brewster
Three-and-a-half out of four.
There are certain topics that don’t lend themselves to comedy, Nazism is one of them.
Apparently no one told that to Taika Waititi, who succeeds in the storytelling of a sensitive subject matter in “Jojo Rabbit.”
“Jojo Rabbit” is story of Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young patriot for Germany and the Nazi cause until he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jew (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house. While getting to know her, he begins to question all he’s been taught.
Now if that doesn’t sound too unseemly, it’s really not, until Jojo’s imaginary best friend shows up in the form of Hitler (played by Waititi, a Polynesian Jew, which makes it a little better right?).
Waititi, who also directed the blockbuster hit “Thor: Ragnarok,” the satirical vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” and the comedic coming-of-age tale “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” takes on the story with a mocking style seldom found in the film industry.
Despite taking on an uncomfortable subject in an unconventional way, “Jojo Rabbit” succeeds in telling a story that is funny, thought-provoking, heart-warming and challenges the ideas of the audience and characters. It does all this while not shying away from the seriousness of war and Nazism, addressing propaganda, anti-semitism and violence.
Waititi’s comedic efforts in “Jojo Rabbit” are similar to his other films which feature deadpan delivery of lines, off-the-cuff comments and slapstick humor. His satire combines the childlike innocence of Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” the blending of comedy and drama of wartime life in “To Be or Not to Be” (1942 and 1983) and the jokes about Nazi fanaticism seen in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”
All this works because it is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy. Griffin Davis handles all the complexities of his role with expertise — the humorous exchanges with Hitler, the heart-felt conversations with his mother and the ignorant questions he has for “the Jew.” Davis does it all with an authenticity that is unmatched and riveting to watch.
Johansson also shines in the role of Jojo’s mother, Rosie. Rosie not only struggles with being Jojo’s sole caretaker and protecting him from the effects of war, but also has to deal with the fact that her sweet little boy is obsessed with Hitler. The love she has for her son fills the screen and spills out to the audience. Rosie has a personality beyond being a mother; she is fearless, joyful and takes each day as it comes. Johansson’s performance gives the character extra life.
Visually, the film stuns audiences by taking them into the woods, streets and war-torn cities of Germany. Waititi often frames characters individually in the center, making them appear isolated. It helps show how Jojo deals with his own changing ideology. It also looks brilliant in the process, with vibrant colors as Jojo runs off with his imagination and muted tones of gray and blue in scenes that depict the war.
“Jojo Rabbit” is a movie that the world needs right now. The film released at an appropriate time with the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and globally. It also helps that “Jojo Rabbit” is a well-crafted story; rarely does a film come around that truly gives you all the feels. Most importantly, given the subject matter, the film ends in hope, showing that while there is darkness, destruction, sadness and pain, there is also light, change, joy and dancing.