Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★½

Something struck me watching Jojo Rabbit, and it stuck with me for a long while afterward. What is it about children that opens up a channel to view horrific ideas through a whimsical lense? A satirical dramedy about Nazis would only ever work or be tonally cohesive if it was viewed through the perspective of young, vulnerable, impressionable, and intuitive kids. Jojo Rabbit takes remarkably touchy material and filters it through the precepts of its two child characters-- One of them a budding Hitler youth tryout and German Nationalist in the making, the other a young Jewish girl hiding out in the attic of the young boy's house with the aid of his mother-- and lends us a lovely character study about the indoctrination of the youngest and most impressionable among us, and the commonalities that tie human beings together, regardless of what odds society might have them playing.

The comedy, as written by Taika Waititi, is relatively tame compared to his more outward comic ventures. Most people who react strongly to "Jojo" in either direction will cite the same pros/cons but have a polar opposite reaction to the elements. The comedy shtick is not really the flashpoint of Jojo Rabbit despite the occasional yucks. A lot of this picture takes offhanded whimsical passes to sweep the darker tenets of the story under the rug until later, but it doesn't let anyone off easy. The young boy's journey of learning the error of his radical nationalist thinking brings him across quite a few quirky characters, Nazi or otherwise, and their interactions seem to be geared towards how a child would interpret them, rather than a real-life approximation of the banter that would flow between adults and a kid. The real heart and soul remain with Jojo and Elsa and their evolving friendship throughout the film, as well as Jojo's contentious yet warm relationship with his mother Rosy (Scarlett Johanson).

Perhaps my favorite sequence in any film from 2020 comes from Jojo Rabbit. The boy and his mother are at dinner and taking a reflection of the missing father figure in the household. Eventually Rosy has to enact his presence with improvised mustache hijinks using soot from the fireplace. She wants to be the foundation for her son, and she wants her husband back. The scene means so much to me in hindsight, painting the tone of this world Waititi has created and reflecting in its sorrow for a minute. It's pure magic, and the way that Roman Griffin Davis and Scarlet Johansson play the scene suggests the warmth and conflict only a parent and child who love each other so deeply can display.

The last 20 minutes or so of Waititi's film is probably a bridge too far. The pathos hit like a truck before that protracted final bit-- and make you wish the film stopped there. Ironically, the representation of Waititi's Hitler imaginary friend becomes grating at a certain point as well. But this film feels honest in the emotional terrain it explores and vivid in its devastations. I love this film with my whole heart.

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