Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★

I watched it..... [SPoiler Alert]: there are no rabbits.
Jk kind of, but suffice to say I’m highly disappointed with the lack of rabbit action. How can you call a film Jojo Rabbit and downplay the rabbits, eh? That’s a crime Taika. Sorry for my rant, moving on.  But I remember I tried to see this film in theaters and it never worked out. It was like the rabbit that got away.
But boy does this brazen film sizzle.

Jo Jo Rabbit is
way funnier than I expected it to be or it has any right to be. In fact, I felt guilty for laughing half of the time given the subject matter. The film is surprisingly  endearing and warm-hearted despite the tragic circumstances.  I felt elated, teary-eyed, awed, heartbroken and totally won over by this film. Although I truly shouldn’t have been surprised given it’s Taika in the driver’s seat here, and he does an excellent job adapting this terrible, but beautiful novel story by Christine Leunens originally titled Caging Skies.

In full on Waititi mode here completely  unapologetic. Taika tackles a frequent old tale during WWII in a new way. Boldly going the satire route as Tarantino and Armando Lannucci, among other directors have favored to pursue before him. Understandably its risky and always difficult interpreting or retelling anything covering the Holocaust or slavery era creatively without some pushback. But I think the director handles every line and scene with the best of intentions in a interesting and profoundly clever way. Even if some viewers may perceive it otherwise and Jo Jo Rabbit is certainly a film adaptation open to multiple interpretations. 

 Taika’s JoJo Rabbit above all else attempts to utilize comedy sophisticatedly pointing out the absurdity of Hitler and his minions agenda and mindset. Moreover the absurdity of prejudice, bigotry, and racial stereotyping ideas as a whole through the unfettered eyes of a ten year old Nazi Youth boy named Johannes or JoJo for short. Thus in fairness the story isn’t exactly meant to be understood through the lens of an adult perspective. And that’s also why this film was right up my alley because like the director I often have the mind of a child. And JoJo Rabbit has an unsuspecting wondrous quality about it immediately from the the first frame that never loses steam. 

While what makes the film so unique and enchanting is not only the humor, and raw yet colorful writing quips, but it may be one of the first or few films focusing on the Holocaust via a German/Nazi relevant point of view that is verifiably unfiltered, and let’s the audience peer into the mechanisms of fanatical German youth’s mind in a ridiculous and playful manner that only Waititi could dream up. The narrative effectively demonstrates how easy it is to learn hate at a younger age based on false assumptions or preconceived notions obtained before we ever have the opportunity to immerse ourselves within a different culture or religious group and gain understanding. And what the film does strikingly well is show how love or friendship can alter these prescribed beliefs. When Jo Jo meets Elsa played by Thomason Mackenzie, the Jewish girl stowaway his limited Nazi worldview gets turned upside down and the two eventually develop a bond. 

Meanwhile JoJo tries to rationalize his encounters and initiation into the German Youth Army by imagining Hitler giving him advice. It’s inventively funny and utter nonsense mostly, but it shows just how effectively the Nazi regime claimed the minds of its youth and citizens. And of course Waititi  playing the imaginary Hilter is not only brilliant, but a necessary device to stand in for the child’s consciousness and his battle between truth and poisonous misinformation.

But the film overall soars on so many fronts. The editing is wild and spunky in style, the music selection is great, particularly that Beatles German version, which I seriously want to download, the costumes are fantastic, and the production design is just damn gorgeous. Not to mention the cast is perfection. Roman Griffin Davis giving a standout performance. He owns every scene like a pro, as you can feel his every emotion despite his awful prejudices making him still utterly relatable on some level. An Scarlett turning in one of her finest and most versatile performances yet. And she makes me want her as my mother here. With Sam Rockwell easily becoming one of my favorite quirky actors more and more. Thomasin totally giving me Breslin vibes. Yet my heart belongs to little Yorki played by Archie Yates. It’s clear all these kids are stars in the making.

With that said the film isn’t all fun and games. It does strive wholeheartedly to balance the comedy and drama, where it manages to strangely succeed. An there are number of darker moments that remind us of the grave situation and the destructive fate of so many unjustifiable lost lives. And watching this now during a Pandemic paints a whole new perspective to complaining about being trapped in a tight space, and if I ever start complaining again I just have to think of all the Jews stuck in hiding, to realize it’s not that bad sure it sucks, but it could be much much worse.

My only mild complaint with the film is that it doesn’t use that comedy to go dark enough. I think the film sets up a lot of good issues to explore but it never really delves deeper emotionally into the cultural juxtaposition and the widespread hatred implemented by the Nazi Regime. And I know some viewers take issue with it possibly showing Nazi sympathy.

 I definitely see how people could take that away from watching, but personally I didn’t see Waititi making the German characters sympathetic, instead I think in certain instances he was showing how sometimes individuals looked the other way and made preferential exceptions, it didn’t necessarily make them a “good Nazi or German” there’s a distinction. Which is actually true treatment based on first hand accounts of Holocaust survivors. But I think we often forget that human beings aren’t black and white in their choices, film remind us people are more shades of gray and history has long shown that there were exceptions to the rule regardless of a person’s station or role. 

 While in some ways I feel a special connection with Jo Jo Rabbit. As I have ancestors named Johannes. I also learned that I’m of Jewish and Germanic descent too. But I couldn’t help thinking after seeing so many different films of this period what a difficult choice it must of been to choose between your German or Jewish side back then. Because basically it’s like having to choose between your black or white side if you’re bi racial or multiracial and it’s something no one should ever be forced to do. Moreover I’m extremely grateful that have had the privilege to experience life alongside a diversity of individuals both family and friends. And my family history like many others is a testament to the fact that love indeed can change the hearts and beliefs of men. 

Bottom line, if you’re like me and still haven’t seen this great film I highly recommend you do ASAP even if it’s vastly different from the book. And if you liked Inglorious Bastards there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this one too. I wouldn’t say it’s the best picture winner, but Taika’s Oscar was certainly well deserved. He’s one of the most imaginative and special contemporary directors/writers today. An it’s definitely a film I won’t forget.

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