The latest Nazi parody has its heart in the right place.
If we spliced Roberto Begnini’s “Life is Beautiful” with Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and spiked it with a bit of Monty Python, we’d get a weird but honest Nazi comedy. And that would happen to be “Jojo Rabbit.” Leave that to director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Thor: Ragnarok”) to join the Third Reich lampooning tradition, which began with “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin.
We meet little Jojo Betzler (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) joining a Nazi training camp, supervised by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), his second-in-comand Finkel (Alfie Allen), and instructor Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). He’s given the nickname Jojo Rabbit, because of how the counsellors and scouts judge him as a coward, especially since his father is deemed a deserter in Italy.
His dreams end up getting shattered, when he survives a hand grenade incident that leaves scars on his face and a limp in his leg. Despite the set-back, he’s willing to join the Nazi party.
His imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler (Waititi), who appears to give him advice. The comedy here shows the Fuhrer offering the young lad cigarettes, thumbs up, and a would-be scheme against Winston Churchill.
And his mother is Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who wants the war to be over, tells him not to grow up too fast. She also hides a young Jewish girl named Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie from “Leave No Trace”) in the attic. But this isn’t a scared Jew in Nazi Germany; she’s a tough-as-nails girl, who threatens to kill Jojo if he spills the beans about her.
Is the boy under her Jewish powers? Probably. So, he does everything in his power to evict the girl, but he ends up making a friend out of her.
“Jojo Rabbit,” based on Christine Leunen’s novel “Caging Skies,” manages to survive the late 2010s by spoofing Nazis without being so obvious or recycled. There are some jokes that got annoying to me, like how the mother tells little Jojo to not act like an adult Nazi, but in retrospect, the humor is more honest, than it is random.
Watititi allows himself and the cast to have fun with themselves.
Davis has already proven himself to be a charming young lad who tries so hard to be bad, and yet, it’s basically impossible for him to do so. McKenzie is also brave by thriving on any situation, and revealing herself as a person. Solid comedy work goes to Rockwell, Johansson, Allen, Wilson, and Stephen Merchant as a Gestapo agent. You also have Archie Yates as Jojo’s genuine best friend, who helps provide the cute side to his story. And as for Waititi as Hitler, he portrays him like a “Saturday Night Live” meets Monty Python character, and he’s quite engaging.
The movie also reflects on reality during and after the war, and through the little boy’s eyes, there’s really a sweetness inside. It’s has a delicate balance of humor and heart, and we actually like these Nazi clowns.