In Nazi Germany, a young boy navigates the last days of World War II, with the help of his mother and his imaginary friend, Hitler. That may seem an unlikely setup for a movie, much less a comedy, but when the director is Taika Waititi, anything goes.
After the intro of Jojo Rabbit, the audience at the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival erupted into spontaneous applause. This is an intro, mind you, that features a fun montage with Hitler youth set to a jaunty German version of The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand (yes, The Beatles themselves recorded a German version). Another critic told me the same thing happened at one of the press screenings, where grizzled veterans of the industry who thought they had seen it all were roused from their torpor in a spontaneous outburst of joy. From the opening minutes, it is clear that Jojo Rabbit is daring, transgressive, funny, strangely joyous, and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
“In Nazi Germany, a young boy navigates the last days of World War II, with the help of his mother and his imaginary friend, Hitler.”
From there the first part of the movie spins out like a supercharged Wes Anderson Hitler Youth romp. While only ten years old, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a Nazi fanatic, and he attends a camp where Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), and Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) try to train him and his cohort with a mixture of self-loathing and apathy. At the premiere, Sam Rockwell said Taika Waititi told him to play the character as if Bill Murray were a disillusioned Nazi and that about sums up his performance. Waititi joked that Bill Murray was unavailable, so they had to settle for Rockwell. Rockwell, of course, excels at delivering mentally unstable semi-serious goofballs with pathos (see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), though this particular performance is one of his career-best. Rebel Wilson is right up there with him, delivering deadpan pitch-black one-liners.