Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★½

Jojo Rabbit is a controversial movie if ever there was one. Nazi Germany was responsible for the death of six million Jews (which was about two thirds of Europe's Jewish population), you would be forgiven if you didn't exactly see the comical potential of the topic. I have to say, it's not a sign of a bad sense of humor if you didn't see the appeal of the final product, either.

Of course, a movie like this wouldn't have be green-lighted if it didn't convey a political message opposing everything that the fascists stood for. Given its undeniable familiarity I wouldn't call this among the strongest pleas for humanity delivered on the silver screen. It's not about the actual words or even their spirit, though. It's about the tragedy of the people seduced and indoctrinated by the misanthropic ideology.

Johannes Betzler (called "Jojo") is a proud member of the Hitlerjugend. He dreams of gaining the recognition of Hitler. In fact, he evaluates his every action by what his imaginary doppelganger of Adolf would say about them. Through his encouragement he decides to proof his worth by an impressive throw of a Stielhandgranate—a failed attempt that leaves him scarred and limping. Of course, this drastically diminishes his prospects of a Wehrmacht career.

Already stricken by this setback the real blow was only yet to come. Jojo's father went to war and his sister died from an illness. All he has is his mother (and his quirky best friend, Yorki). But when he is home alone one day he hears mysterious sounds from inside the walls and upon his investigation he discovers: mother Rosie was hiding a teenage girl, Elsa. A jew! In her he finds realized all the horrors and deformities he was taught of the inferior race. Or does he really?

Although it doesn't quite reach the laughing-out-loud heights of Wes Anderson's unique brand of edgy comfort humor, Taika Waititi's script is just as charming. Roman Griffin Davis is adorable as the titular character who struggles so hard to stand up to his fanatic ideas. Here the mash-up of cuteness-with-an-edge comes in form of a fascist twist. State propaganda prepares the ground for the most hideous sentiments, yet you want to twitch his cheek and send him out to play innocent games with his friends.

Upstanding Rosie—Scarlett Johansson in one of her most charming roles—can only helplessly watch her son grow up to become a firm believer in the terrible cause. Right now he is still a little boy, though. At the age of ten he is so overly dependent on her, he cannot even tie his own shoes. Imagine his bewilderment when he realizes that his own mother was housing the dirty enemy. It's like discovering that your parents have sex, only much worse.

I cannot say I was moved much by the interactions of Jojo and Elsa. It's amusing how she gives him the run-around and how he records his misguided ignorance in his little Yoohoo Jew book (cool drawings, too). I liked Thomasin McKenzie's reserved and unagitated performance, though I wouldn't say that it was particularly memorable. The letters are something a little boy would do, but the dialogs are not the most inspired, either. I doubt I will remember much about their romance.

Significantly more memorable were the visual impressions. First and foremost there is the incredible awkwardness of Waititi's Adolf. His clumsy movements, his bonkers ideas, his mastery of Denglish, the screaming silliness of their slow-mo attack to obtain the hand grenade, it's ridiculously funny. The supporting cast is very strong too, especially Sam Rockwell's portrayal of the well-meaning army officer in charge of the Deutsches Jungvolk. He's a bit of an eccentric (as when he is fighting in his fancy new uniform/costume) and it warmed my heart when he lies to protect Elsa's life. His second-in-command, Theon "Reek" Greyjoy, was another taciturn highlight.

At times there is a Monty Python-esque charm to the humor, as with the spot-on delivery of the over-and-overly repeated "Heil Hitler!". The secret star of the whole affair is Yorki's melancholic commentary. He is a poet and a philosopher really. I have to admit, Rosie's death didn't quite hit me on an emotional level, but I liked how Jojo looks at the end of the war with an almost saddening sense of loss as his world is now in ruins.

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