I went into Jojo Rabbit not knowing much about the film. I haven’t been paying much attention to movies lately and hadn’t seen a full trailer or read a single review (don’t worry Zach, I’ll be reading yours just as soon as I’m done writing this). And with all that apathy I managed to avoid any spoilers or any real knowledge of it. I don’t say this as a backward “I’m too cool for school” brag. I say it, because sometimes ignorance really is bliss. This just seemed like one I should go into blind and I think I’m happier for it.
If you’re on the fence about seeing Jojo Rabbit, but also think that you should go in knowing less about it rather than more, I’ll say this once: stop reading now and just go see it. You’ll be glad you did.
For those that want to know more or are reading this because you’re rabid fans of mine (why do I hear crickets right now?), let’s dig in and see what all the fuss is about.
Jojo Rabbit is about a ten year old boy living in Nazi Germany. He’s obsessed with Hitler and believes all the worst things about jews. So much so that the film starts with an ecstatic Jojo getting pumped about going to Nazi Youth Camp. Did I mention this is a comedy (albeit a dark one)? Celebratory book burnings and live fire training ensue.
It stars Roman Griffin Davis as Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, Scarlett Johansson as Rosie Betzler, his charismatic, take-no-shit mother, and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, a jew living in their walls. Oh, and it was written, directed, and also stars Taika Waititi (of Thor: Ragnarok) as none other than Adolf Hitler, or at least a proxy of Hitler. The story is based on Christine Leunens‘s book Caging Skies.
The film takes a turn when Jojo finds Elsa hidden away in their home, and that his mother has hidden her on purpose. Jojo then begins to questions his misguided beliefs. With the thoughtful prodding of Rosie and Elsa, Jojo eventually comes to terms with the fact that he has been mislead.
Almost every character in Jojo Rabbit is funny. Jojo: funny, Rosie: funny, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell): funny, Hitler: funny, Jojo’s friend Yorki (Archie Yates): hilarious. But the laughs aren’t at the death and destruction of war, but despite it. The characters, especially Jojo and Rosie are grasping for levity in a country and city that are surrounded and under attack, from inside and out.
There’s no way I get into the heart of the matter without egregious spoilers, and this is no place for that. So I’m just going to say that this quirky, dark comedy is chalk full of heart. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is easily Scarlett Johansson’s best film. Or at least the best I’ve seen of hers. She exudes caring and compassion in an undercurrent beneath her rough guise of a faithful German citizen.
Couple Johansson’s performance with Sam Rockwell, who plays a gruff but funny and oddly caring Nazi captain who attempts to train Jojo and Yorki, and you’ve already got a film brooding with talent. But we’re not done yet. The young actors also all nail it. Elsa (McKenzie) is meek in her hideout, but fierce when it comes to Jojo’s blind Nazi loyalty. Meanwhile she’s clever enough to prod him into an empathetic direction without being too overt. Even Jojo’s hilarious friend Yorki, is as lovable as a character as I could hope for.
After Jojo Rabbit finished, I walked out of the theater and went shopping at Trader Joes. It’s unrelated to the movie except that Joes shares a parking garage with the theater I went to and I was hungry. All of that is beside the point anyway. The point is, that the whole time walking around the store, doing something so trivial as buying groceries, driving home, and walking my dog, my mind was wandered. Much in the way minds tend to wander after something great and shocking and bewildering — clawing for meaning, scratching away the callused parts of my skull.
I was sad and laughing and smiling and crying, all at the same time. If the goal of art is to make you feel something, Jojo Rabbit unequivocally falls into the “art” category for me, and I bet it will make you sad-laugh-smile-cry too.