Film Review By Hamilton Richardson
I recently went and checked out the new and potentially controversial Taika Waititi film, Jojo Rabbit.
Before I jump into my thoughts and reactions to the movie, I need to explain myself a bit, mostly because this review will find itself before a new audience.
Over the last several years, I have gotten the great opportunity to review a lot of movies. Many of those reviews were written for two print publications and some were for publication on the web. Now to be clear, I haven’t reviewed as many films as some prominent critics and I would never claim that I have. But I’ve reviewed a good many and for the most part, I’ve loved every minute.
With so many critics out there, why would I even attempt to join the ranks of those who share their thoughts and opinions on the latest films? Simple. I love movies. And its not just that. I love great movies. Movies that stir the heart. Movies that make you feel courageous, hopeful and that point you to something bigger than yourself.
But the only way to find those rare films is to, obviously, watch them and to try to sift through the rubble to find the gems.
Jojo Rabbit is just such a gem.
The new Taika Waititi film is the latest creative endeavor from the director of Thor: Ragnarök (2017). Waititi is also well known for co-directing the strange but hilarious cult classic, What We Do in the Shadows (2014).
Jojo Rabbit is a period piece set in WW II Germany, which is part drama, part parody and in an unexpected way, part tragedy. The mix of those three genres is what makes this movie so remarkable. One moment you’re laughing out loud, the next you’re brought to tears.
Jojo, whose full name is Johannes Beltzer, is a smart, thoughtful young boy who dreams of becoming a Nazi. He even talks everyday to his own personal Hitler, played to hilarious perfection by Waititi, and asking for advice about how to succeed in Hitler’s Youth. Jojo is played so well by young actor Roman Griffin Davis, who after this could have a bright future in films.
Jojo’s mom, Rosie, played by Scarlett Johansen, is a funny, tough and devoted mother. As the film unfolds, we learn that Rosie, although appearing to support her son’s love of the Fuhrer, actually has other plans in the works. Johansen may have given the best performance of her career here.
So what does a young precocious Nazi boy do when he discovers a Jewish young lady (Elsa played by Thomasin McKenzie) living in the walls of his house? Well now you see the unfolding crisis in this well-told, superbly performed motion picture.
Although a very serious topic is on display in Jojo Rabbit, it is interspersed with kooky comedy and parody beyond compare (I mean who doesn’t want to see Adolf Hitler running around the forest with a boy screaming the benefits of being a Nazi?). And let me not neglect to mention the hilarious Sam Rockwell who plays Captain Klenzendorf, the one-eyed (and recently demoted) Nazi officer tasked to train Jojo and a group of German youth to be good soldiers. We find out early on with Klenzendorf that he has just about had enough of the war and is killing time until it’s over.
I must interject in the midst of all this hilariousness, that there are some painful, truly tragic and even shocking parts of Jojo Rabbit. It’s a war movie after all and the devastating truth of what the Nazis did to the Jewish population is not lost on Waititi. And he’s not afraid to show it, which also makes the film so moving.
Now I can already hear the complaints and moans from those who see this film as a travesty. I can hear it now. How can you make Nazis look funny? How can you laugh while people are being killed? How could you fall in love with a young boy who just wants to be a good Nazi?
That’s the beauty of this project. You’re able to laugh in the face of death, yet never forget that death is terrible. Never forget that Nazis were evil. Never forget that boys can get awfully confused about life.
But in this rare gem of a film, we are forced to choose– in the midst of war and abuse and injustice—to take a few minutes to laugh.