Over the last few years, especially with the success of Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi has become one of the fastest rising directors in Hollywood. He started making a name for himself in the United States with Hunt for the Wlderpeople—a fantastic film. Now, with a critically-acclaimed superhero film under his belt and beloved indie hit, Waititi can go as weird and irreverent as he wants, which brings us to JoJo Rabbit. And yes, you will love his Adolf and will be baffled as you do. It’s weird and wonderful.
Jojo Rabbit is a Tail About a Boy and His Hitler
Get ready for one weird and beautiful movie. (Image: Fox Searchlight)
Okay, let’s talk about the Nazi in the room. In Jojo Rabbit, Waititi plays “Adolf,” the imaginary friend of the title character, JoJo. This is not the Adolf Hitler we see in old news clips and history books. Waititi’s Adolf is a buffoon. He’s kind of charming and whimsical. This is the point, as another character points out to JoJo later in the movie. Jojo isn’t a Nazi. He isn’t anything. He’s a ten-year-old boy who wants to play war and be part of a club. Accordingly, his imagination turns Hitler into an overgrown ten-year-old boy who just wants to play war with him.
However, there is a lot more to Waititi’s performance than only “clownish Hitler.” The more JoJo learns about the harsh realities of Nazi Germany, the more Waititi’s Adolf resembles and acts like the Hitler we do fear. As the fantasy dies for JoJo, the nightmare becomes more real. And Waititi (a half-Jewish, half-Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, an indigenous population in New Zealand) runs the transformation so smoothly and perfectly, you feel as conflicted as JoJo does throughout the film.
Waititi Assembled an Amazing Cast for the Movie
(Image: Fox Searchlight)
Waititi isn’t the only star of Jojo Rabbit. The film boasts a pretty stellar cast, with people like Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen in small but hilarious roles. First and foremost, JoJo himself, Roman Griffin Davis. Now, everyone named “Roman” is obviously going to be incredibly talented and attractive, but this kid had a tough role. He had to convince us to love a little Nazi kid. And he does—by being a kid in a horrible era. We don’t really think about what it must have been like for the children in these regimes. Jojo believed everything the party told him, and wanted to be a good little Nazi. Davis holds that the entire movie. And the pain he shows in those dark moments of the film is better than many Oscar-winning actors.
This is great with or without context. (Image: Fox Searchlight)
Speaking of Oscar-winning actors, we also have Sam Rockwell, whose Captain K is one of the most surprisingly likable characters in the movie, despite being a Nazi general and all. Rockwell is brilliant at taking characters we really should hate and find no redeeming qualities in, and get us to be on his side by the end of the film. Captain K is kind of like an adult version of JoJo, and in the scenes we do get with Rockwell, he shows the same conflicts. But there is one scene towards the end of the film where you will cheer for Rockwell even if he is going to fight American troops.
If Anyone is Nominated for JoJo Rabbit, it’ll be Scarlet Johansson
(Image: Fox Searchlight)
The smartest thing Waititi did for JoJo Rabbit is cast Scarlet Johansson as JoJo’s mom, Rosie. This character is incredibly complex. Her husband has been missing for two years, her teenage daughter died, and though she hates the Nazi party, she doesn’t try to destroy JoJo’s world. Oh, and she’s hiding a Jewish girl in her attic. This is Johansson’s best performance of her career. She is, as Waititi says, “a real ray of sunshine in a dark, hopeless time.” Funny, tragic, loving, strong, vulnerable—a mother in every way, but also a freedom fighter in every way too. In the grimmest moments, Johansson makes us smile with joy. Hopefully, JoJo Rabbit marks the beginning of many collaborations between Johansson and Waititi.
Grade: Heil Waititi!
(Featured Image: Fox Searchlight)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.