MOVIE REVIEW: Can Anything About Hitler be Funny? See “Jojo Rabbit”

NATHAN RIVAS WRITES– Visionary New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople; Thor: The Ragnarok) continues his hot streak with this hilarious and heartwarming coming of age story about, of all things, a bromance between a young boy and his imaginary best “friend:” Hitler. The movie’s official release date is October 18. 

Set during WWII, “Jojo Rabbit” follows a ten-year-old boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who attends a Nazi youth camp and aspires to be like his hero, Adolf Hitler. A lonely child with no father, Jojo in fact turns Hitler — who is played by director Taika Waititi — into an imaginary best friend. The movie then shows the unlikely bond that develops between Jojo and Hitler.

The plot thickens when Jojo discovers that his mother has been hiding Elsa, a young Jewish girl (New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. He is then forced to make a decision: To continue believing Nazi propaganda about Jewish people and risk betraying his mother, or, somehow, changing his wacky views on both politics and friendship. 

 

Can Hitler, in any way, be a fitting subject for humor? Yes, in the peculiar context of Jojo Rabbit. In one scene at the Nazi youth camp, Jojo enjoys burning books, mastering weapons of war, and telling scary stories of Jewish people under the night sky. Sound sickening? Director Waititi presents Jojo as a misguided character deserving of empathy; he is, after all, an innocent boy who believes in Nazi propaganda not because he is a bad person— but because he has been misguided by adults whom he is supposed to trust. Accordingly, his mother, played by Scarlett Johansen, tells him he is too young to have political beliefs about war and race. 

And so, Jojo Rabbit is about both a loss of innocence and the danger of xenophobia. As Jojo develops a friendship with Elsa, his worldview changes.  The film’s underlying assumption, then, is that human connection is key to wearing down walls of hatred and ignorance. 

 

In addition to a unique story with fully realized characters and truly hilarious scenes, Jojo Rabbit offers gorgeous cinematography and a wonderful musical score. Director Taika Waititi displays his signature style— long pan shots and perfectly timed deadpan comedy.  

This movie has long been in the works. In 2017, Waititi successfully transitioned from Indie to blockbuster filmmaking with his hilarious and well-regarded Thor: Ragnarok. That third installment to the Thor franchise earned 854 million dollars at the box office and became one of Marvel’s highest-rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes. In an interview with Stuff Entertainment, the director explains that he actually wrote Jojo Rabbit back in 2012:  “A lot of people were interested before Thor, but I’d say definitely because of that film they probably had a bit more faith. When you say, ‘I’m making a WW2 film,’ the studios go, ‘not another one,’ but this one is so different, it’s so weird and has this Pythonesque style to it.” 

 

If you are looking for a fun and heart-warming way to spend your weekend, you just might find it in, most improbably, a movie about Nazi Germany. Mel Brooks did something like this in his 1967 movie The Producers, about a fictional musical called Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgade.   Fifty-two years later, maybe we deserve another laugh. 

 

 

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