In Brief: Heavy stuff, yes, but brilliantly written, acted and filmed in an often light, humorous way.
Jojo Rabbit is a not-so-serious movie about a very serious subject. Nazis. It’s about a fanatical Nazi kid living in Berlin at the end of World War II. He is 10-year old Jojo, a boy that wants to be the perfect Nazi for the Fuhrer. He has wallpapered his bedroom with posters, and prances and preaches and postures, and — in secret — talks propaganda with an imaginary Adolf Hitler.
Adolf is his hero and primary advisor.
That’s fantasy. In reality, Jojo is 10, still more boy than adolescent and he’s a lousy soldier. It’s the end of the war and Hitler’s goons are training children to resist and defend the Reich. Jojo blows it during training, sets off a grenade, permanently harms himself and his trainer, Sam Rockwell’s, Captain Klenzendorf.
So Jojo is more or less demoted to doing propaganda things around town for Kenzendorf who has been demoted.
Then one day he discovers that his mother — done with wonderful positivity by Scarlett Johansson — is hiding a Jewish girl in a crawlspace in a bedroom upstairs. He can’t tell anyone because that means mom will die. So Jojo engages the girl in conversation and says he won’t turn her in if she’ll tell him all her Jewish secrets.
The Nazi propaganda — as many of you remember — focused on the Jewish people having magical powers and the ability to do mind control and all kinds of freakish things.
That sets up the conflict and Jojo’s education into what is really important in life and helps him discover that following a demon like Hitler isn’t exactly the best direction to go. It turns out to be a very hard, and often tragic education.
By the way, Jojo Rabbit is as funny as it is horrifying.
That comes from the take on the topic by writer/director Taika Waititi who bases his movie on Christine Leunens’ acclaimed novel, Caging Skies. He’s the perfect person to tell her story.
Waititi’s most commercially known work is Thor: Ragnarok. As you know, super hero movies — Marvel and D.C. — tend to be way serious and ponderously long. Waititi’s Thor movie is not too long and does not take itself seriously at all. In fact, Thor: Ragnarok is laugh-out-loud funny.
At least shorter than the standard Marvel fare. Fans had so much fun with his take on the character that has been signed to do the fourth film in the Thor series. It’s titled Thor: Love and Thunder and is due in 2021.
His most popular fan film is 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. If you haven’t seen it, find it somewhere. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. It is smile-inducing joy from start to finish.
That long explanation leads us to Jojo Rabbit.
To date this is not only his best movie, but it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It’s so good, so well written and beautifully done that I cannot imagine anything or anyone topping Waititi’s now best film.
The story centers on the approaching adolescence of a boy. He’s been told one thing all of his life but slowly discovers it might not be true after all. What he thought was good and right and true is actually dark and ugly and evil.
As with all of us, sometimes it just takes awhile to get there.
Getting there is the beauty of this movie. Jojo is a good boy but he’s been brainwashed. The un-brainwashing comes about in this darkly comic story of the relationship of a young boy to his mother, his Fuhrer, a kind captain and a Jewish girl.
It beautifully debates who’s actually controlling who and why.
Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo. He’s part of a very short line of good kid actors given a shot at a part that’s deeper than the dumb Disney-like comedies most get stuck doing in order to break into the biz. He makes the most of the opportunity and has a blast debating love, life and philosophy — positive and negative — with Thomasin McKenzie’s (Leave No Trace) Elsa. Their give and take is rapid-fire-funny in places and deadly serious in others.
So is the boy’s relationship with Waititi who has a blast playing the imaginary Hitler.
All three are very, very good and get near perfect support from Johansson, Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Archie Yates.
The real star of the movie — however — is Waititi. Why? Because when it comes to movies exploring the deep but very odd things that make us human, no one is better. He’s not the best of all time in a classic sense, however, mention his name to anyone familiar with his films and the smile is instant. He gets people perfectly.
Jojo Rabbit paints a picture of one of the most horrifying times in human history. It is an exploration of humanity at its darkest. But when we — humans — are at our worst, we are often at our best.
That’s Jojo Rabbit in a nutshell.
It’s also why — like all Waititi movies — Jojo Rabbit will put a smile on your face.
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Archie Yates
Rated PG-13 for very mature themes. Taika Waititi is quickly becoming my favorite filmmaker. Few people writing or directing movies have a better understanding of the human condition and what makes us human and why it’s often so funny being human. This is a shoo-in for a best picture nomination, best actors, actresses, etc. when the fun starts a few weeks from now. My favorite movie so far this year. Give it a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.