The Screen Scene: Jojo Rabbit

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

Finding the Humor in the Horror

Comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks once said that only Jews can make jokes about the Holocaust. But, there’s a problem with that statement: it comes from Mel Brooks. So, I’m not sure if he was joking or not.

If he was serious, then I think he would still approve of Jojo Rabbit, the new film from New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi. The filmmaker is Jewish, but most importantly, he’s very funny.

Who is Taika Waititi you ask? He’s made a few indie comedies over the years, but those of you who follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe would know him best as the director of small indie film, Thor Ragnarok. With Jojo Rabbit, Waititi has returned to the indie comedy world that he’s most known for with a tale of a 10-year-old boy coming of age in Nazi Germany in 1944.

Jojo is in the Hitler Youth, but he doesn’t seem to have warfare in his blood. Anytime events turn violent, he scampers away, earning him the nickname “Jojo Rabbit.”

Jojo doesn’t fit in with the other boys, so he spends time with his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler. Yes, that’s right. Jojo’s imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself.

However, Hitler in this film is a bumbling buffoon who can barely tie his shoes much less lead a global uprising. Jojo looks to the Fuhrer for life advice, and we look to Waititi’s performance as Hitler for lots of laughs during the film.

Hidden in the satire and comedy is a story about nationalism, racism and the ignorance that can drive prejudice and bigotry. Jojo has been told all about the evil Jews who are destroying his country, but to his knowledge, he’s never met one. He’s being indoctrinated to hate his fellow countrymen, but he doesn’t really know why.

Jojo Rabbit is a beautiful fairy tale of a story. It’s set amid one of the most horrific periods of world history, but the gas chambers and concentration camps are nowhere to be seen.

Jojo, like any other kid, is growing up and trying to decide who he is and what he stands for. As the film progresses, he finds himself confronted with an ethical dilemma: Should he be a good little Nazi as his country demands of him? Or should he show mercy to his supposed enemy?

The screenplay and the amazing child actors have Jojo Rabbit firing on all cylinders. The film is laugh-out-loud funny while also providing a child’s-eye view of the tragedy of the Jewish experience during World War II. It’s a masterpiece of tone. Call the babysitter when Jojo Rabbit hits your local multiplex. You don’t want to miss this film.

I give it 4 out of 5 popcorn buckets.

If Jojo Rabbit isn’t playing near you yet, you can get a taste of Taika Waititi’s sense of humor by checking out his previous films. What We Do In the Shadows is a horror comedy that is currently available on rental platforms and has now become a television series on FX.

His 2017 comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is a comedy adventure set in Waititi’s homeland of New Zealand. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

Jojo Rabbit comes to theaters on Oct. 18.

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