Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★½

Let everything happen to you:
Beauty and Terror.
Just keep Going.
No Feeling is Final.

While I wasn't surprised that Jojo Rabbit met my lofty expectations, maybe I was slightly surprised at the manner in which it did so. Taika Waititi's latest comedic offering begins as a fairly tonally straightforward, if unconventionally premised, satirical comedy about a "Hitler's Youth" ten year old who lives alone with his mom and is training to be a Nazi soldier. Without a father living in the home, his only male role model is an imaginary best friend in the image of Hitler. Of course, this isn't the real life evil Hitler, in words or action. This is Hitler as perceived through the naive mind of a sheltered child, after passing through the many filters of a pre-internet German society. Of course, the very nature of this type of real life ideology is so childish in actuality that it kind of oddly befits a young title character who needs to learn better. Jojo's "Hitler" is a mixture of silly bigoted cliches that a young boy doesn't understand combined with his desire for a father figure. Jojo clearly has no idea what the true hatred of Nazism espouses and obviously admires Hitler's clout and stature without fully grasping the evils of his ideologies. He parrots exaggerated antisemitic bigotries taught to him, as if Jews were actually winged creatures, and converses with the imaginary Hitler, played in a very zany and tongue-in-cheek kind of a "Looney Tunes meets Monty Python" manner by Taika himself.

So all this is fine and good, right? But what is the hype really about? There are many worse ways to spend a couple hours than a nice extended poke at idiotic Nazis performed by an outstanding cast, with a clever, Oscar-winning screenplay helmed by Mr. Waititi. As I began earlier, I want to emphasize that this movie met my expectations in a way that I did not expect because of the way it grew more and more on me over time. My very initial impression throughout much of the first act of this movie was a favorable 7 or 8 out of 10. It was consistently chuckle-worthy and occasionally hilarious, with funny characters and a good design. The story was palatable, but didn't feel special to me just yet. As the movie went on, plot points were introduced and I got to know the characters a little more, I became further and further enchanted. There's more than what meets the eye to almost every major player in this. Nuanced performances abound, especially from young newcomer Roman Griffin Davis and potential breakout star Thomasin McKenzie. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson has offered plenty of excellent performances over the years, but this may be one of the more balanced, charming and funny characters that she's pulled off. So getting to know and love these characters put me around a 9 out of a 10. Eventually, the dramatic moments of this movie begin to balance the comedy so powerfully that I really fell in love with this movie and decided to venture into perfect score territory. When the sentiment finally arrives, it is well earned. There's not much else I'd ask from this movie, besides maybe being acted in German for more immersive authenticity.

Last, but not least, I just want to say that besides the creative premise and all-around strong cast, the thing that took this movie to another level for me was the character development and surprising gradual emotional depth. Given how the lightly the first act played out, I was pleasantly shocked at how the characters grew and progressed in gradual and feasible ways, given the story context. Watching Jojo learn about humanity and acceptance feels genuine and never like an after-school special. This is just a wonderful movie that blends playfully immature humor with vastly mature and human character development in an extremely satisfying and fairly unique way. My rating: 5 out of 5 // 10 out of 10 Metal Men. -KF

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