It’s rare — and more than a little odd — to use descriptive words like sweet, sentimental, tender, loving and hilarious for a movie that heavily involves Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party at the height of World War II.
Then again, this is the world of Taika Waititi, which explains why the new film JOJO RABBIT flies in the face of expectations and finds ways to entertain with an absurd approach.
JOJO RABBIT made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s fair to assume that audiences had no clue what to expect. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a young boy growing up in war-torn Germany who idolizes Adolf Hitler and can’t wait for his opportunity to join his nation’s armed forced. Jojo views Hitler with an affection most kids reserve for pro athletes, which is puzzling and disheartening for his apolitical mom (Scarlett Johansson).
But Jojo also sees Hitler (Taika Waititi). Not, like, in person. As an imaginary friend. And Hitler encourages Jojo in ways his real father should, but can’t (for reasons we don’t want to reveal). As played by Waititi, Hitler is both the angel and the devil on Jojo’s shoulders. The satirical version of history’s significant villain is played for laughs due to Waititi’s unexpected approach. And either you laugh very hard at it, or this movie is not for you.
Beneath the shock of seeing Adolf Hitler trying to get laughs, JOJO RABBIT hides its true mission, which is to tell a sweet coming-of-age story about a boy confused by his status and needing to learn about love in a country that wasn’t feeling much of it at the time. Jojo’s mom is harboring a Jewish fugitive, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and once Jojo discovers this, he’s wildly conflicted. On one hand, he’s heard nothing but horrible things about Jewish people (all of it exaggerated). On the other hand, he might be feeling the pangs of young love for this attractive stowaway living in his attic.
The performances in JOJO RABBIT keep the movie interesting, with McKenzie and Johansson bringing a sweetness and a tenderness that’s the ideal counterbalance to the Nazi backgrounds — which Taika Waititi consistently plays for absurdist laughs. Very few of us went into JOJO RABBIT expecting such a big-hearted adolescent fantasy about friendship and first loves, but then again, when it comes to Waititi, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected.
JOJO RABBIT will be in theatres starting October 18.