Jojo Rabbit, rated PG-13
My wife Tammy and I love watching movies. But we’ve done something this year that we’ve never done before – we have watched all of the Oscar nominated films for Best Motion Picture. The last one we watched was Jojo Rabbit, which received six Oscar nominations and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), who also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and is based on the book Caging Skies: A Novel by Christine Leunens. Jojo Rabbit is a quirky satire set in Germany at the end of World War II.
Jojo Betzler, played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, is a 10-year-old boy who has completely bought into the beliefs of the Nazis. As such, he believes that Jews are monsters who have horns on their heads. He’s such a believer, his imaginary friend, who frequently gives him pep talks is none other than Adolph Hitler, played mostly for laughs by Waititi. Jojo lives with his mother Rosie, who references God a few times, played by two-time Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story). Jojo is told that his father is away in Italy fighting in the war.
Jojo heads off to a weekend Hitler Youth Camp, which teaches the boys how to fight and the girls how to care for wounds and have babies. The camp leaders include Captain Klenzendorf, a disabled German soldier with an injured right eye who drinks a lot, played by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect), Finkel, played by Emmy nominee Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and Deertz, played by Emmy winner Stephen Merchant (The Office). Jojo’s best friend at camp is the lovable and plump, Yorki, played by Archie Yates.
After an accident with a live grenade at camp, an injured Jojo returns home to his mother, who is a member of the resistance. There he discovers that she has been hiding a teenager named Elsa, a Jew (Gesundheit!), in their home. Eventually, Jojo begins to see that Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), is not at all the monster that he has been taught that all Jews are. He decides to write a book about Jews, and quizzes Elsa to tell him about Jews. How might getting to know Elsa change the young Jojo?
The film features a number of solid performances – Davis as Jojo, Johansson as his mother Rosie, Waititi as Hitler, Yates as Yorki and Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf. The film’s musical score is from Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up), and the cinematography is by Mihai Malaimaire Jr. (The Master).
Themes in the film are trust, belonging, fear, peril, uncertainty, and compassion. Content concerns include adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names, some war violence and an implied same-sex relationship.
Jojo Rabbit is an odd, offbeat satire set during the end of World War II in Germany. Although there are solid performances and touching moments, we found it hard to like or recommend.