Bold Nazi satire somewhere between The Producers and Inglorious basterds.
Director: Taika Waititi (hunt for the Wilderpeople) (Under the Skin) Screenplay: Waititi from Christine Leinens novel)
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson
Runtime: 1 hr 48 min
By: John DeSando
“Yeah, I know, definitely not a good time to be a Nazi.” Yorki (Archie Yates)
As Nazi youth in Jojo Rabbit are caught in bad times just before liberation, so too is the campy film caught tonally between the lyrical fantasy of Springtime for Hitler and the heavy mockery of Inglourious Basterds. But not to fear, Jojo’s (Roman Griffin Davis) imaginary friend, Hitler (director Taika Waitti), is an ineffectual bumbler, who gives Jojo solace in rough times.
If you hate Hitler, you’ll enjoy the satire; if you love him, well, you can enjoy news about your favorite dictator and skip this satire.
Jojo, himself an ineffectual and impossibly cute 10-year-old, not only has to face the dwindling power of the Reich but also the fact that his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson), is harboring a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).
Anne Frank anyone? Like so many participants in that WWII scenario, Jojo must decide between party loyalty and humanity when he decides whether or not to report Elsa.
In the first part of the film, so much is lighthearted (think Hogan’s Heroes or Life is Beautiful), that you could forget the baseline horror, which the film treats as Wes Anderson might with serio-comic attitude. Helping to lighten things is hipster anachronistic dialogue like “intense” and “correctamundo” and slapstick set pieces that ease the inevitable tension from hinting at Holocaust.
The second part turns melancholic when Jojo decides what to do with his “girlfriend” Elsa, and the Allies are about to change everything. The tone is right, between the uncomfortable struggle before the allies arrive and the new freedom that will demand a maturity and independence Jojo has never had under the Nazis.
Writer-director Taika Waititi has crafted a powerful yet delicate comedy of the world’s most horrible story. For attempting to satirize Nazis and be poignant and positive, he should be praised. For the feel-good ending, he should again be rewarded, even if it feels counter intuitive given the horrific history.
"You're not a Nazi, Jojo. You're a ten-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.” Elsa
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com