Chew's Reviews - Jojo Rabbit

By Gary Chew |  

Combining black humor with a compelling humanistic message that comes straight at you like a story written only for children seems like a big order for film director Taikia Waititi. who also adapted his JOJO RABBIT script from a novel called “Caging Skies,” by Christine Leunens.

The challenge to bring all that together is met by Waititi with some success except for the humorous layer in the plot that plays like one joke told over and over. The repeated shtik deals with just how ridiculous fascistic concepts and behavior are. (Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin earned doctorates for it.) Waititi's singularity of that repetitious “punch line” weighs down the front end of JOJO RABBIT.

Goofy German soldiers and creepy Gestapo agents are easy targets for lovers of democracy and human rights. I was beginning to squirm some as nasty Nazi troops pressure our young hero, named Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), to break the neck of a defenseless rabbit to prove his loyalty to the Third Reich. The 10-year-old's inability to bring off such a vicious act for the bullies gets him the nick-name, JOJO RABBIT.

Jojo has a secret “freund” though. No one else can see the “friend.” It's Adolf Hitler, hilariously done by Taikia Waititi himself. The two talk a lot. Waititi is a New Zealander and describes himself as a Polynesian Jew.

Johannes' mom, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is a closeted nice person. Her husband is away, fighting in the German military. But Rosie, doesn't hold with the Hitler thing. On the other hand, she wants her son to be involved with the fascist regime going on in their town. Peer pressure makes that necessary.

Slapstick ... not just shtik is another facet of Rabbit's tale. Placed in sequence with scenes that display local German citizens hanging by their necks from nooses attached to gallows is one way to do a script choked, er, I mean, chocked full of gallows humor. Loyalty to Der Führer was paramount. If not ... it was gag time down at the town square. Funny how history tends to sort of repeat itself, especially now just as the first decade the 21 st century concludes.

That very thing, though, is what gives this upside down, especial film much of its significance. Since I actually recall World War II, what with its difficulties due to Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, younger folks today are likely not to sense what I do in regard to the foreign imperialistic shenanigans going on then. So, I recommend this film to the youthful, but not for really young children; maybe 12 years and up.

Borrowing from the history of Anne Frank's WWII ordeal, Rosie has sequestered, in her home, a young Jewish woman named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). Johannes is unaware of Elsa's presence until one day when he's alone in the residence, he hears strange noises. He finds Elsa hidden in a wall enclosure. They become close friends, and Johannes keeps her secret. You keep a close eye on Johannes and Elsa.

Sam Rockwell, whom most of us enjoyed not long ago in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, plays Captain Klenzendor, a mean but silly German officer. Klenzendor could be the only high ranking German officer ever put in a WWII movie who still, like Rosie, has a little heart left.

Best scene for me in this flick is when five darkly dressed Gestapo agents burst into Rosie's home to search for anything suspicious. (No warrant, of course.) Stephen Merchant plays their boss; a willowy man with weird glasses called Deertz. Merchant has one of the movie's better lines as he sees a Hitler poster on the wall, then saying to Jojo: “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism!”

The best line, though, comes as a printed quote at the closing credits, “Let everything happen to you, Beauty and terror. Just keep going, No feeling is final.” – Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Copyright by Gary Chew  © 2019. All right reserved.


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