Toronto 2019: Jojo Rabbit

First still from the set of WW2 satire, JOJO RABBIT. (From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). Photo by Kimberley French. Courtesy of Fox.

There’s a tricky way of addressing the Holocaust and/or World War 2 through satire and humor but Jojo Rabbit does so in a perfect way.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth.  This is where Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, playing another racist) leads the youth in training.  He’s bought into the Nazis so much that his invisible friend is none other than Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) himself.  Only Taika plays Hitler in a way that nobody else has done so since the likes of the greatest WW2 satires.  He brings an approach that drastically differs from Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.  One day, Jojo comes home to discover Elsa Korr (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) hiding in the wall.  You don’t even have to guess that she’s Jewish because we already know it.  I love the approach to framing Elsa’s hands in such a thrilling way to the point in which Jojo gets disturbed.

Jojo’s mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is a righteous gentile for hiding Elsa.  It’s people like her in which we are truly grateful to their efforts in protecting Jews.  It’s just a matter of getting caught.  All it takes is one person to blow the whistle and life changes in an instant.

In the time that Jojo comes to know Elsa, he goes from wanting to turn her in to realizing what it could mean to his own family.  It’s a troubling predicament for the ten-year-old, whose father is off fighting on the front lines.  The moment that we know he’s grown a heart is when he writes a letter pretending to be Elsa’s fiance.  The letter in question delivers some sad news and when Jojo realizes what he did, one can only think he grew in terms of maturity.  It’s that moment in which one sees the good in Jojo.  That one realizes he can turn against the Nazi way of life and join Rosie in protecting Elsa.

Very few films are able to tackle the subject through humor and get it right.  Or at least in way that isn’t tacky.  Making fun of the Nazis is something addressed through Ferne Pearlstein’s Solzy Award-winning documentary The Last Laugh.  It’s hard to think of the subject without thinking of Mel Brooks.  Brooks is one of the masters when it comes to poking fun at Nazis.  Taika Waititi is also a member of the tribe so he’s able to get away with the satirical approach here.  Granted, it’s more than just humor because I found myself trying to contain emotions late in the film.  The ability to tackle our pain through humor is something that bonds Jews across the world.

I am very happy to report that the heavily anticipated film from Taika Waititi lived up to expectations.  It’s so funny to watch the filmmaker essentially make fun of Hitler.  Overall, one of the best scenes comes very late in the room.  I’ll spare the fine details but it received the biggest combined laughs and applause during the premiere in Toronto.

I went into the Toronto premiere knowing that this film would be my most-anticipated film of the fall season let alone the year.  I’m one of those who came late to the Taika club upon the release of Thor: Ragnarok.  There’s still a lot of films left this year but this is one of the best films this year.  Sadly, it comes during a time in which Jews are still facing anti-Semitism across the globe.  Let this film serve as a lesson that the fascist Nazi way of life must be rejected.

When we think of the great satires, we think of To Be Or Not To Be, The Great Dictator, and The Producers.  There are others that belong here but for now, Jojo Rabbit officially joins the list of the great satires poking fun at the Nazis.

CAST: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, with Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson

Jojo Rabbit holds its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Fox Searchlight opens the film on October 18, 2019. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.