Although always delightful, it feels really, really good to laugh at Adolf Hitler right now.
Narcissistic, lying megalomaniacal strongmen, even dead ones, are always wounded by being made to look small. Jojo Rabbit reduces the uni-testicled failure and his entire ideology to cartoonish boobery. In doing so within the context of a genuinely beautiful fable, writer/director Taika Waititi provides the tiniest taste of a flavor long absent from our daily meals during the ongoing fight against modern fascism: Hope.
Set in Germany at the tail end of World War II, Jojo Rabbit starts with its titular young boy (Roman Griffin Davis) having the single worst day anyone could ever have at a Hitler Youth Camp designed by Wes Anderson. After showing why Hasbro never launched a product called Hand Grenade Jr, Jojo finds that he cannot easily pursue his dream of becoming a Nazi.
His father is fighting in Italy, and his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is always gone for some reason, so Jojo spends most of his time alone with his imaginary best friend: Adolf Hitler (Waititi). Whether or not the rest of the plot constitutes spoilers is a semantic argument. What is inarguable is that to continue describing it here would be to go beyond what is spelled out in the trailers and unfairly steal some of the movie’s magic.
And this movie is absolute magic. Save for the forced, tone-deaf, almost-physically-painful-to-watch performance by Johansson, Jojo Rabbit is perfect. As a coming-of-age story, it uniquely argues that adulthood only really occurs when you “come of rationality and humanity,” which explains why we live inside a sea of manbabies. As a parodic parable about overcoming the principles of racist totalitarianism, it exposes the legions of grown adults who continue to do now what Jojo does as a child: Dream up a fictionalized version of a real-life egomaniacal blowhard to empower them.
Beyond all of that, it is also easily the funniest film of the year. From the surrealist hilarity of imaginary Hitler to Jojo’s wise-beyond-his-years buddy, Yorki (Archie Yates), Jojo Rabbit makes you laugh so hard that you forget to guard your heart. Waititi takes full advantage of that vulnerability with a third act that gently guts you, several times over.
It’s officially past the point where we start talking about Waititi in that elite club of “best directors working right now.” As he did with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he guides a performance from a young actor that should absolutely be considered among the year’s best, inside a film that is as gorgeous as it is defiantly poignant.
Gymnasts’ routines are scored based on degree of difficulty. Attempting an important, currently relevant exploration of the evils of fascist ideology by using a comedy that features silly Hitler has to be scored using the highest possible cinematic degree of difficulty. Jojo Rabbit doesn’t just stick the landing, it sticks with you.
Grade = A