Komm gib mir deine Hand.
JoJo Rabbit is a tough sell to mainstream audiences because you pitch the idea of “hey check out this comedy movie with Hitler” in 2019 and people are going to give you looks. Thankfully the movie did really well, pulling a box office of $90 million off a budget of $14 million and thanks to strong performances by Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, and breakout star Roman Griffin Davis the film received over a dozen awards and was well received by audiences. Those who watched it.
I think only a mind as crazy as Taika Waititi could have sold a Hitler comedy in 2019. The film kicks off by introducing us to JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis), child and avid Hitler fan. JoJo loves Hitler so much that he created his own imaginary friend in the form of Hitler, played by Taika Waititi himself. Jojo is a spitting representation of the Hitler Youth; fiercely loyal and desperate to find a group that will accept him for who he is even if he has no clue what he’s agreeing to. He doesn’t really hold any malice in his heart, although he thinks he hates the Jews because he was told he should. It’s a coming of age story about a kid trying to find his identity, specifically in a world of insane radicalism.
One of JoJo Rabbit’s biggest accomplishments is that it defangs the image of Nazis without disrespecting the memories of the horrible things that happened in real life. It’s a comedy movie but one that makes no effort to remind you how horrible the actual Nazis were, not that you really needed that reminder. Jojo is exposed to a lot of horrible things over the course of the film as the war comes to its natural conclusion. There’s also a lot of beautiful and very deliberate imagery that runs its course over the film and I can’t really say more without spoiling things.
The film also highlights the idea that exposure is a great deterrent to bigotry. Jojo assumes what he’s been taught about Jews having horns and other such things is true because he’s never met a Jewish person. And then he has an encounter with the girl his mother his hiding in the house, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzi) and is forced to reckon with the idea that the things he’s been taught are clearly a lie and that she’s just another normal human. Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), Jojo’s mother, is exhausted with the war and the pain and suffering it brings, and while she loves her country she simply wants to see it at peace again.
One of my favorite characters is Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) who presents as comically evil and then quickly turns out to be a decent guy at heart. He had dreams of being a big war hero and then when he was injured in combat realized just how little the Nazi leadership valued him. Now he’s been stuck at a desk and heading a Nazi Youth camp realizing the kids he’s been tasked with indoctrinating are being led down a dark path, knowing that when push comes to shove Germany would be putting them on the frontline to die for the country. You can tell he’s long since started having doubts about the righteousness of his government’s motivations but is lost on how to deal with it. He is a fantastic character and you really feel for him by the end.
Archie Yates is here as Yorkie, Jojo’s pudgy friend who also just wants to fit in. Klenzendorf is flanked by Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who plays the counterpart, the stunningly sadistic and probably objectively evil woman. It’s the last and probably only role Rebel Wilson has played that carries some semblance of dignity, ironically as a Nazi camp counselor. I enjoyed her scenes as much as I despise Rebel Wilson as she’s effectively the female James Corden who is a massive asshole in real life for a guy who has virtually no talent and is barely a celebrity outside of his welfare award nominations. I have a hunch Rebel Wilson is also deeply unpleasant as a person.
Stephen Merchant is also here as a member of the Gestapo, who is even more intimidating thanks to Merchant being six foot seven and literally towering over everyone else. The film does a great job of sticking him in very tight spaces where his height difference is all the more obvious. But as a comedy drama, it’s important to remember that Jojo Rabbit is also a drama. Get your tissues ready folks, this is the kind of film where even hearing parts of the soundtrack after will have you tearing up. Watch it.