By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
is a satirical comedy from New Zealand director Taika Waititi
(“Thor: Ragnarok”) that attempts to balance dark humor against reality yet doesn’t quite succeed.
The movie is based on Christine Leunens’s novel “Caging Skies.” I found “JoJo Rabbit” slightly amusing, but mostly unsettling.
“JoJo Rabbit” isn’t the first movie to comically portray the Führer. The 2015 film “Look Who’s Back” (“Er Ist Wieder Da”) from director David Wnendt starred Oliver Masucci (“Never Look Away”) as Hitler as he interacts with ordinary Germans who thinks he’s an actor merely impersonating Hitler.
Mel Brooks’ 1967 film “The Producers” featured the fictional musical “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” Even Charlie Chaplin got in on the act with “The Great Dictator” (1940).
However, what kept me interested in “JoJo Rabbit” was the film’s 11-year-old lead star Roman Griffin Davis.
He makes an impressive debut here. Davis plays Johannes "Jojo" Betzler an expressive kid who is living in Nazi Germany during World War II with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, upcoming “Marriage Story”). His father is serving in Italy but hasn’t been heard from in nearly two years.
JoJo is a Nazi worshipper and can rattle off “Heil Hitlers” with authority. So, it’s no surprise his imaginary friend is Hitler (Waititi). JoJo gets advice from him on most everything.
JoJo and his chubby friend Yorki (Archie Yates, another rising star) are sent to a Hitler youth training camp that’s run by the goofy Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and a cruel instructor (Rebel Wilson, “The Hustle”).
To show how tough he is, JoJo is asked to kill a rabbit but he can’t do it. He’s then humiliated by the other kids and leaders who begin to call him “JoJo Rabbit.”
The experience eats at JoJo until he’s given some “comforting” words of encouragement by Hitler. He tells JoJo not to worry about what people say. Afterall, he says people called him all sorts of bad things and you just must ignore it all.
A bigger problem arises for JoJo when he discovers his dear mother has been hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, “Leave No Trace”) in their house. Even worse, JoJo starts to like her. But if he turns Elsa over to the Gestapo, they could all be killed.
There are a couple of horrific scenes involving public hangings that linger far longer than any of the humor that Waititi tries to convey in “JoJo Rabbit.”
The entire shtick wears thin midway into the film.
“JoJo Rabbit” isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s an acquired taste, kind of like oysters on the half shell. I don’t like them much and wasn’t all that impressed with “JoJo Rabbit” either.
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Check Out This Trailer For "JOJO RABBIT"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.