Friday, October 18, 2019

Movie Review: "Jojo Rabbit" (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi
Year: 2019
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

When Jojo, a 10-year-old member of the Hitler youth, finds a Jewish girl hiding in the walls of his house, he is forced to rethink everything he has been taught and must reassess how he views his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler.

"Jojo Rabbit" (2019) movie scene where Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, and Alfie Allen stand in a Nazi headquarters
"I give you full permission to send this 10-year-old child into war." (Image Source)
Based on the novel "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunens, "Jojo Rabbit" is written and directed by Taika Waititi, who is known for his movies "What We Do in the Shadows," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," and "Thor: Ragnarok." The film tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic member of the Hitler youth. Jojo believes so steadfastly in the Nazi party that Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) himself is his imaginary best friend. After hearing strange noises while he's home alone, Jojo finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a Jewish teenager named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house. Jojo's immediate reaction is to turn Elsa in but knows that doing so could put his family in danger. As Jojo gets to know Elsa, he comes to a turning point and is forced to reassess what he knows (or what he thinks he knows) about the Jewish people. Over time, he discovers all the rhetoric he used to believe is a lie.
Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, and Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler sit at the kitchen table together in a Jojo Rabbit movie still
"You were chosen by pathetic little men who can't seem to wear a full mustache." (Image Source)
We can only imagine the reactions of various studio executives when Taika Waititi, a Polynesian Jew from New Zealand, first pitched the idea of a satirical comedy that takes place during WWII where the lead character is a child Nazi who believes his best friend is Hitler. We're so, so glad Fox Searchlight had the guts to greenlight this project. In a year that has consisted of one massive disappointment after another, "Jojo Rabbit" is an intelligent, uproarious, poignant ray of hope. This film has it all: an excellent script full of both witty banter and hard-hitting dialogue, wonderful sets and costumes that really capture the era, an intimate focus on the characters, tremendous, award-worthy performances, emotional moments of deep reflection, and the best use of a song by The Beatles we've seen in a long time. Waititi finds a way to make the Nazis look even dumber than they already are/were while not diminishing the severity of what their ideals have meant/do mean/will mean if notions like theirs are allowed to persist. It shows the dangers of indoctrinating children, listening to rumors, and of judging a book by its cover. It's more than just words: this feels personal for Waititi. Even when he's frolicking and shimmying around German forests with an overzealous Jojo, the script never loses sight of just how serious it all is. He intertwines these crucial plot points with his signature brand of snarky, goofy, dynamic humor in a film with many of the funniest scenes we've seen all year. He keeps a light, playful, comedic tone even though it deals with a heavy subject matter.

Of course, Waititi does more than write and direct here. He's also personally playing enemy number one: Adolf Hitler. We're not sure it's a compliment, but Waititi absolutely nails the role as he plays Der F├╝hrer with a mix of friendly playfulness and scary rage. The biggest acting standout for us was Roman Griffin Davis, who is very obviously a star in the making. Davis gives such a powerful performance as he soon realizes that all he has been taught is not only incorrect but dangerous and morally reprehensible, he just can't see it due to his "blind fanaticism." Jojo is a Nazi and Hitler fanboy who thinks Germany will win WWII because they can do no wrong. He has been taught that the Aryan race is the most powerful race, and that he should fear anyone who doesn't look exactly like him. He puts party over self, over his country, and over humanity, but doesn't realize what that actually means. His wide-eyed, innocent gaze is dimmed once he starts talking about "the ways you can tell someone is Jewish," regurgitating Nazi rhetoric and talking points about their horns, mind-reading abilities, scales, serpent tongues, etc. This is a propaganda technique used by political leaders to dehumanize specific sections of the population and to use them as scapegoats for all that is wrong with their country. Sound familiar? That's because we still see politicians using the same tactics today, making "Jojo Rabbit" all the more relevant. The language used today might not always be as blatant as "horns" and "scales," but when politicians blame crime rates, shifting values, a lack of jobs, and diminishing power on immigrants and minorities or anyone who looks different than the majority, well, that's scary as hell. Jojo must make a change throughout the film as he tries to turn talking points into compassion and understanding, blind hatred into love, distrust into trust. We loved watching his journey, even when it's painful to hear him say terrible things and go through even worse fates. Waititi has once again found a way to make despicable characters relatable, and we appreciate the hell out of him for that. Also brilliant is Sam Rockwell, who we think gives one of the best supporting performances of the year as Captain Klezendorf, a flamboyant one-eyed show-off who obviously never really quite believes the bullshit he is spewing. Thomasin McKenzie continues to impress with her heartfelt performance as Elsa, a tough, strong, sometimes snarky character who teaches Jojo compassion through their differences.
Jojo Rabbit movie scene where Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) grabs a stick of dynamite and jumps over an embankment with his imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi)
"You're still the bestest, most loyal little Nazi I've ever met." (Image Source)
"Jojo Rabbit" is one of the best films of 2019, hands down. Taika Waititi proves once again why he's one of the greatest filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. He keeps the tone playful, light, and comedic even though it deals with a heavy subject matter. This film shows how far humanity has come, but it also shows how dangerously fast it could all fall apart. We have a long way left to go, all we need is a little compassion and empathy. Go see this movie as soon as you can!

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
RT Rating: 80%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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