Comedy is the ultimate playground for escapism, for letting the worries and cares of daily life fade away in order to decompress and unwind.
The best comedies, though, usually have unexpectedly a little bit more to say on their minds than first glance might suggest.
There’s a hysterical new comedy hitting theaters this fall that combines a stellar, side-splitting screenplay and award-worthy performances.
It’s also about Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.
“Jojo Rabbit,” the latest creation from avant-garde New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi, is brazenly unlike any other movie in 2019, boldly colorful and wildly subversive, a constant romp of a good time sure to put a smile on many adults’ faces this fall.
Loosely adapted from the 2008 novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, “Jojo Rabbit” peers into the world of Nazi Germany through the eyes of 10-year-old Johannes, a deeply patriotic boy attending his first Hitler Youth camp alongside his imaginary friend, a childlike caricature of Adolf Hitler. After finding a Jewish girl in hiding, Jojo’s world changes drastically.
Making his feature film debut, Roman Griffin Davis is a perfect protagonist for Waititi’s dark comedy. Easy to root for in spite of the outrageous venom that spews from the mouth of a Hitler youth, Davis displays genuine heart and naivety that transcends the hate and allows the dialogue to feel comically satirical.
The openness Davis brings to his performance works wonders with the film’s female cast, especially Scarlett Johannson in a winning supporting turn as Jojo’s mother and indie darling Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish teen in hiding Jojo stumbles upon.
Waititi assembles a terrific supporting cast to bring the humor while maintaining dramatic heart with Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant as a Gestapo agent as standouts among the secondary characters.
As is the case with many of his films, however, the comedic scene-stealer in “Jojo Rabbit” is Waititi himself, demonstrably absurd and quirky as the imaginary Adolf. Waititi brilliantly creates this version of the Nazi leader through the mind of his 10-year-old title character, which gives his Adolf a buffoonish quality for comedy. This also allows audiences to peer inside Jojo’s mind as he grows and changes over the course of the film, with Waititi’s Adolf reflecting the inner conflict of a child in war-torn Germany in a sensationally original way.
“Jojo Rabbit” is smarter both as a film and a screenplay than its colorful, simplistic exterior might suggest. It’s true that Waititi’s latest feature is creatively absurdist and revels in the comedy of truly hateful speech.
It also has earth-shattering moments of poignancy in stark reminder that the lessons of the past need to be heeded lest they return. The film’s unofficial moniker of being an “anti-hate satire” is incredibly apt.
The satirical ridiculousness of “Jojo Rabbit” lands big laughs throughout, but there’s some unintended collateral damage that may find audiences uncomfortably giggling at Jewish stereotypes in a more derogatory fashion than one might find in a Mel Brooks film.
However, there’s a deceptive amount of heart to the film, thanks in large part to Davis’ brilliant innocence in the title role and Johannson’s earnest compassion. “Jojo Rabbit” may be a lighthearted romp for most of its 100-minute running time, but it packs a wallop of dramatic punch at the core of the film.
It’s quite conceivable that an outlandish, almost garish satire like “Jojo Rabbit” could be a major player come awards season as Waititi’s movie is certainly one of the 10 best films of 2019.
An outside contender for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, the film is more likely to receive an adapted screenplay nod than anything else, although Johannson’s strong work here should boost her nomination and win chances for a leading role in the upcoming Netflix drama “Marriage Story.”
Boldly creative in the style of Wes Anderson but with his own satirical quirks, Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” is among 2019’s best films and a movie certainly worth seeking out on the nearest big screen.