A Spoiler-Free Review of “Jojo Rabbit”

One of the many movies being analyzed for an Oscar nomination, let’s take a look at “Jojo Rabbit,” and see if it deserves a nod from the academy.

Donovan Holland, Staff Writer

Taika Waititi, best known as the director of the cult hit What We Do in the Shadows, and the MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) Thor Ragnarok, has made yet another film, Jojo Rabbit. The movie has been in theaters for about a month now, and, in all honesty, it would be a disservice to one’s self to not go see it. 

The star of the film is Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a witty German boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II trying to navigate the world he lives in, a world being taught blind nationalism and prejudice against Jews to be the end all-be all. These concepts become uncertain for Jojo after he meets Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a teenage Jewish girl he finds hiding away in his house. 

The storyline of “Jojo Rabbit” is extraordinarily well-done, and has an abundance of well-written moments that hit you with almost every emotion imaginable. However, the best part of this film, like many other great films, are the characters that inhabit the production. Characters and performances are the lubricants that keep the plot machine of movies running smoothly, and Jojo Rabbit definitely is no exception.

Jojo, despite his very naive and impressionable nature, is a truly lovable kid. He’s goofy, sharp and full of the spirit the whole way through. Even still, Jojo is very easily influenced by the propaganda and the conversations around him. However, Jojo is not stupid. He understands something about what he’s being told regarding the Nazis is off, even if it’s on a subconscious level. His naivete really works with the movie and makes for many great scenes, some poignant, some hilarious and some bit of both.  The movie is a coming-of-age story of sorts, and Jojo is a great character to see grow and change on that journey.

While Jojo might be the exuberant spirit of the film, his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johanssen) is the mind, heart and soul of it. In today’s Hollywood, Scarlett Johanssen is known either for her good looks or for playing the straight-faced action hero in MCU films. This is a darn shame because this woman can really act, and she puts her all into this role. Rosie wants to be the best mother she can be for her son. She does her best to act as a light and a positive influence in an otherwise dark world, giving Jojo a perfect balance of motherly affection, sage advice and tough love.

Also along for the ride is Jojo’s imaginary friend, none other than Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Waititi plays this incarnation of the dictator in a very interesting way. Here, Hitler is seen through the lens of a ten-year-old who is being fed Nazi propaganda. As a sort of childish shoulder devil, the anti-Hobbes to Jojo’s Calvin. Waititi plays this clever trickster Hitler, beautifully. Somehow, he manages to give this evil madman a bit of a comedic relief role, while at the same time, acknowledging the evil of Hitler’s Third Reich. He doesn’t quite steal the show, but each and every scene of Waititi playing Hitler as a whiny, foot-stomping version of history’s most evil man is a treat to watch.

The ensemble cast is amazing as well. Elsa, played by McKenzie; the Jewish girl that Rosie is hiding in the Betzler house, possesses some great lines of dialogue and also has fantastic chemistry with Jojo. Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), is the SS (Schutzstaffel) officer who runs the Hitler day camp Jojo attends and reveals himself to be full of surprises. Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) provides some of the film’s best moments, supplying ad-libbed lines. Jojo’s campmate Yorki (Archie Yates) is also a likable young boy trying to navigate the hostile world of Nazi Germany. The film wouldn’t be as great as it is without these characters.

All in all, Jojo Rabbit has no right to work as well as it does. Its story isn’t too ambitious compared to other WWII films. Its respective genres have been done in movies many times over. Most notably, it’s no-holds-barred, South Park-esque satire of anti-Semitic propaganda is incredibly risky in this age of P.C. culture. Despite this, the film really, truly works. It successfully weaves between different tones; encompassing everything from cartoonish and wacky, to spirited, to moving and thought-provoking. This is one film where every moment in the world is a moment well-spent, getting better as it progresses. Only certain films can accomplish all that in under two hours, and this one delivers on all fronts. Shockingly phenomenal, “Jojo Rabbit” shouldn’t be missed by anyone.