WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
Jo Jo Rabbit was nominated for five Oscars and won for best adapted screenplay for its writer/director Taika Waitati. It is based on the novel by fellow New Zealand native Christine Leunens called Caging Skies. It is the story of Jo Jo a 10 year old German boy who aspires to be a Nazi and joins a youth Nazi training camp in the waning years of World War 2. He isn’t exactly a stellar candidate, especially when he is asked to kill a rabbit as part of his training and he lets it go; hence his nickname going forward. Still, Jo Jo Rabbit has plenty of enthusiasm and a supportive imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, himself. Waitati plays Hitler gleefully, and the scenes between him the talented young actor playing JoJo- Roman Griffin Davis are some of the funniest in the film. The establishment of Hitler not only as a comic character but as an imaginary one immediately adds a bit of levity to a very heavy subject matter. Yes it is a comedy, and it is about Nazis and a kid’s worship of Nazism and Hitler. The film is also a drama and can break your heart as quickly as it makes you laugh out loud. It takes a talented director to weave through comedy and drama so seamlessly without awkwardness and Jo Jo Rabbit is nothing less than a tour-de-force for Waitati who manages to instill a comic book/graphic novel feel, with fantastic, vivid visuals, yet great attention to period detail.
Oscar nominated here for her role, Scarlett Johansson plays Rosie, Jo Jo’s single mother, his father is absent and a sister has died, leaving the two of them alone in a big house; well not quite alone. Jo Jo uncovers a girl, Elsa living behind a wall in a secret room. At first he assumes she too is imaginary, but soon we discover that not only is she real, but she is Jewish. Things become even more complicated when Rosie, who appears to be a patriotic Nazi loving German, is actually part of a resistance movement and is knowingly hiding Elsa. Jo Jo becomes increasingly torn between his love for his effervescent, strong mother, his growing bond with Elsa and his fanatical dedication to Nazism, which even impresses the hapless commandant of the youth training program, Captain Klenzendorf, played with gusto by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell. Jo Jo begins to write an anti-semantic book called Yoo-Hoo Jews with drawings of Jews with horns and various other nefarious interpretations. At first it serves for a way for him to reinforce his dedication to the Nazi cause, but it slowly becomes a vehicle for his understanding of anti-Semitism and eventually serving as a great cover for him and Elsa when the Nazi’s pop in for an inspection.
Roman Griffin Davis is perfect in the lead, and he totally encompasses the wonderment and enthusiasm of Jo Jo as we experience the war through his eyes. Rarely has a film that deals with such heavy subject been this original, funny, sad and entertaining. It is a terrific film, a singular vision-an entire reinvention of the WWll film.