“Jojo Rabbit” Review: Taika Waititi’s WWII Satire Is a Heartbreaking Delight

jojo rabbit

Newly minted Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner “Jojo Rabbit” is written and directed by Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) and stars Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Archie Yates, Stephen Merchant and Taika Waititi.

The story follows 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a member of the Hitler Youth, who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls of their house. With only his imaginary best friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) to confide in, Jojo must grapple with his Nazi principles and real-world humanity.

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Branded as an anti-hate satire, Taika Waititi has taken an unusual approach with this story. Based on the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, there are so many ways this movie could’ve gone wrong. Rather than be a flaming trainwreck, however, “Jojo Rabbit” is a heartfelt tale of undying hope and the destruction of hate through love.

No film is the by-product of one person, but there is something to be said about a filmmaker with a singular voice. This movie walks a razor’s edge tightrope of potential disaster. If the comedy overshadows the drama or the satire falls flat, the entire thing falls apart. Taika not only shows that he’s more than capable with the yuks, but he also has the filmmaking flex to handle the story’s pathos.

This movie is hilarious and tragic. Thanks to a sharp screenplay from Taika, Hitler’s Nazi values are put on the chopping block and thoroughly ravaged. Keenly self-aware, the movie gets serious when it has too. The tragedies of the world are never far off and the movie will have you crying as often as laughing.

Lest we forget it takes a village, the film’s incredible cast deserves as much notice as their director. Roman Griffin Davis makes his feature debut with “Jojo Rabbit,” and the future is bright, indeed, for this kid. His skill is on a whole other level. His line delivery and comedic timing are flawless. Roman seamlessly moves between hilarity and sadness to paint a fully realized portrait of a lonely little boy, yearning for communion, seized in the throes of Nazi fanaticism.

Lacking a father figure, Jojo conjures up an imaginary Hitler, his best friend, and number one supporter. Roman and Waititi’s chemistry is through the roof, with their scenes being the very best in the film. Taika makes for a charming Hitler, bringing a childish allure to the role that only serves to mask the nastiness resting under the surface.

Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa evokes sorrow and strength in her girl-in-the-wall character. Scarlett Johansson steals the show as Jojo’s elusive, dance-loving mama, trying to keep the spark of hope alive as the world around them descends into despair.

Poignant, hysterical, and optimistic, “Jojo Rabbit” sings with confidence and faith in a better world – free of hate to dance, love and run as the humble bunny does.

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