Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is a limited release film by independent studio Fox Searchlight. Roman Griffin Davis stars as Jojo, the son of a Nazi solider who wants to be just like his father. Along with his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates), he joins the Hitler Youth and trains to fight in the last years of World War II.

Hang on – Yorki isn’t actually Jojo’s best friend, according to Jojo. No, that spot is reserved for the Fuhrer himself. 

Director Taika Waititi, most famous for Thor: Ragnarok (2017), also plays Jojo’s imagined version of Hitler, dreamed up to help Jojo tackle the challenges of boyhood. He’s played off ridiculously and comedically – until he’s suddenly much more historically accurate. It’s a performance that certainly is the piece de resistance of a fantastic film. While the decision to use Hitler as a comedic device has caused controversy, in the context of this film, it makes sense – and he never mentions serious aspects of the Holocaust. After all, how real is all this talk of death to a 10-year-old?

“Imaginary Hitler” certainly has plenty to say when, one day, Jojo discovers a Jewish teenage girl living in his wall. Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa is powerful on the screen, and the film truly centers on her interactions with Jojo.

While the cast of children is unrecognizable, the adults are all critically acclaimed. Scarlett Johansson plays Jojo’s mother, a playful and comedic advocate for childhood. Sam Rockwell is Captain Klenzendorf, who heads up the local Nazi soldiers and Hitler Youth; Rebel Wilson of Pitch Perfect fame works for him. 

The performances steal the show. Each line is delivered with an artistic realism that in itself is part of the film’s emotional plea to enjoy life and freedom, and every character stands out through unique quirks that make them very enjoyable to explore. The whole film has a charm akin to a Wes Anderson film: a twist on Moonrise Kingdom’s Boy Scout uniforms, a colorful German village, and well-framed wide shots.

Over the course of about six months, the film’s mood goes through several phases, from comedy to criticism to tragedy. While there are plenty of jokes and comments that, with historical hindsight, are comical, this movie also has one of the most tragic deaths I’ve seen on the silver screen. 

Jojo Rabbit is as much about 1940’s Germany as it is about today. Through the small world of a young German boy, we find that hate is learned, and we’re better off when we appreciate everyone. It’s about war, growing up, persevering despite fear…but most importantly, it’s a love letter to life and love itself.

Watch the trailer:

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