(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Jojo Rabbit
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Taika Waititi plays Hitler as an imaginary friend to a young boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who feels compelled to be a good little Nazi towards the end of World War II. Unfortunately, he can’t quite measure up to the ruthlessness expected of him. Once the kid discovers that his mother (Sarlett Johansson) has been hiding a teenage Jewish girl in a secret room in their house, his world is turned upside down as he realizes that maybe there’s more to life than trying to please the Führer, both in his imagination and in the the war torn world around him.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: There are so few Nazi comedies out there in the world that you can nearly count them on one hand. So just the mere existence of another one is worth checking out. But Jojo Rabbit isn’t miraculous just for its existence. By turning Nazis into complete buffoons played by the likes of Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant, on top of having a self-described “Polynesian Jew” playing the imaginary version of their precious dictator, Jojo Rabbit is a truly unique cinematic work. Frustratingly more relevant than it should be in the year 2020, this coming-of-age tale takes a stand against prejudice and hate with a poignantly jarring but effective juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy.
Though Taika Waititi deserves endless praise for his raucously hilarious turn as a seemingly harmless, friendly version of Hitler, it’s Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo who makes this movie. His innocent eyes see the world for what it is, but that also means he’s willing to accept certain realities without questioning them, which is why he’s so hellbent on being a loyal Nazi. But as soon as he’s presented with an opposing perspective by someone who isn’t an adult simply telling him how to live his life, he starts to question what he’s been led to believe. Bringing this war story down to a kid’s level makes it easier to swallow without being condescending or overly simplistic.
Scarlett Johansson also deserves plenty of praise for delivering a performance that feels like it was pulled from the Golden Age of Hollywood. You could take her performance from this movie and insert it into any number of films from the 1940s and 1950s and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all. She keeps the movie grounded while zany comedy unfolds around her, and as Jojo’s mother, she’s the voice of reason. Because of that, her character is responsible for one of the most moving moments in the entire film. And that’s all I’ll say for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.
Very rarely has a film so delicately balanced gutbusting comedy and heartbreaking drama. Though some think it’s crass to make comedy out of the Holocaust, Jojo Rabbit does it with purpose and substance. It’s a story of acceptance and love in the face of indoctrinated hate, and it skewers those who instilled a culture of fear in an entire population that still feels the same prejudice to this very day. Nazis don’t need to be portrayed as deadly serious in order for us to understand that they suck. There’s value in degrading and mocking them harshly and in such a silly fashion. Jojo Rabbit manages to do that while magnificently while also bringing some tears to your eyes.
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