Ah, 2019. One of the greatest cinematic years in recent memory. And the year I finally took Scarlett Johansson seriously as an actress. Jojo Rabbit is now available on DVD, BluRay, and Redbox. I’ve been waiting a while for this, and wanted to catch Jojo before the Oscars. Alas, Jojo had to be the only Best Picture contender that I didn’t see until Feb 2020.
In spite of what early marketing promotions suggested, Jojo Rabbit is not a Nazi comedy. No, Hitler is not glorified nor is he made likable. He is merely a figment of a lonely, fatherless boy’s imagination. A boy in need of guidance and a cause to believe in. A boy nicknamed “Jojo Rabbit” because of his perceived cowardice.
Taika Waititi directs, writes, and plays the German tyrant. He is simply outstanding in this. He flawlessly captures Hitler’s mannerisms and applies his own comedic chops to relegate him to a buffoon. Waititi exudes strong Johnny Depp vibes here and showcases the range of Hitler’s public persona: the inspiration, the leader, the god, the demon, and finally, the loser. Like I said, this movie is not a glorification of Hitler, by any means.
Taika has so much going for him, and I can’t wait to see what else he has to offer. The other performance worth mentioning here is Scarlett’s. Her character, Jojo’s mother, shelters a Jewish girl in her home, and is unsure how to make her son follow her example because of his blind fanaticism. As his mother, she wants to teach Jojo love and compassion, but struggles with providing him guidance because of the Nazis’ far-reaching propaganda. In the movie’s most impactful scene (in my view), Jojo is verbally-abusing his mother at the dinner table. Even his imaginary tyrant friend is like, “Yeah, imma head out…”. Instead of getting upset, Jojo’s mother does a little role play. She puts on her absent husband’s army jacket and smears her face with fireplace ash, to resemble a beard.
“How DARE you talk to your mother that way?!” she says in a fake-masculine voice.
The father is meant to teach his kids discipline, whereas the mother teaches love. It’s very difficult for one parent to play both roles. “Your mother is just doing what she can,” Scarlett says to Jojo, still acting as his father. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that fatherless kids will seek guidance outside of the home. Their newfound role models rarely have the child’s best interest at heart.
Jojo Rabbit is an excellent coming-of-age story about what happens when the State invades the home and replaces the family. Brilliantly written and directed, it balances moments of levity and others that are absolutely devastating. 2019 was an awesome year for cinema, and Jojo was the perfect way to say “auf wiedersehen” to the bygone year.