Taking satirical swipes at Adolf Hitler and the rule of Nazi Germany on screen is certainly not new, but it can be tricky to pull off.
Fortunately, director Taika Waititi knocks it out of the park.
The comedy "Jojo Rabbit" follows Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a German boy living in the final days of World War II's European theater. With walls closing in, Jojo is one of Germany's youth selected to join the war front. However, after an accident while training, Jojo has to stay back at home.
There, he finds out that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) happens to be hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). The situation leaves Jojo and his imaginary friend, a comical portrayal of Hitler by Waititi himself, in a state of questioning his allegiance to the Nazi rule.
Right from the description you can decipher that this isn't a movie that goes for total realism. Instead, the film offers an absurdist look at 1945 Germany, with much of the dialogue about the war and the fascistic efforts of Hitler exaggerated to comedic levels.
However, it's incorrect to simply label "Jojo" as nothing more than a parody going for only comedic impact. This is a movie that builds its characters, especially Jojo and Elsa, quite well, and their interactions make for emotional and tense scenes.
Having these endearing characters allows the movie to not only have a narrative that holds more weight, it also makes the satire that much more biting and giving more of an impact. The humor here takes aim at the entirety of the Nazi ideology and fascism as a whole. Everything from disastrous war to the racist concepts pushed by Hitler's rule is targeted for satirization here, and it's effective.
One of the reasons this does work is Waititi's phenomenal performance as an over-the-top, ridiculous version of Hitler. In a sense, it's sort of a modern take on Charlie Chaplin's character in "The Great Dictator." Hitler is a bumbling character here, but while Waititi obviously plays the character in an exaggerated manner, there's also a commentary being made on the historical figure's ideology.
Another brilliant, and certainly award worthy, performance here is Johansson. She gives one of the best performances of her career so far here, portraying one of the brave Germans who stood up to the Nazi regime. Where Johansson shines, though, are the moments where her character is trying to get through to her son, in an effort to make him realize the terribleness of the ruling party.
A lot of credit has to go to the young performers Davis and McKenzie, too. While this is a comedy, it is a very dark comedy and there's tough subject matter here. Both actors do really great work here, though, with convincing performances and a solid chemistry.
The movie's cast is also nicely rounded out by Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, who both are great in their supporting roles, with Rockwell especially stealing the show in his scenes.
On top of his top notch acting, it can't be overstated how well Waititi and his crew did in directing and writing this picture. The script is exceptionally witty and clever, while the film visually is eye-catching and stylish. Waititi, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., and the crew who worked on the production design deserve a lot of praise.
"Jojo Rabbit" takes just a bit to really get going, but this is such a minor flaw because once the story is set in motion it really takes off. This is easily one of the best of the year and will likely receive plenty of nominations. 5 out of 5.