Alternate history is a theme that has existed nearly as long as stories have been captured on cellulose. Very rarely is the historical account retold in such a comedic way?
Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Thor: Ragnarök) chooses to share a story of World War II through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, JoJo. Roman Griffin Davis portrays JoJo in his feature debut. In a unique twist, Waititi portrays Hitler who is the imaginary friend to JoJo, but since this Hitler is imaginary and derived from JoJo, he is limited by the 10-year old’s mind. Which provides for considerably humorous Hitler.
JoJo wants nothing more than to be a good Hitler youth when he is confronted with finding a Jewish girl hiding in his house. But, JoJo knows that to turn her in to the authorities would be to condemn all who helped her which is his mother Rosie. Rosie who is portrayed by Scarlet Johansson (The Avengers, Lost In Translation) provides a memorable performance as a mother doing the best she can for her son in a war-torn Germany.
Believing he can’t betray his mother’s actions JoJo sets out to find out all he can about the Jewish stowaway, Elsa, portrayed by Thomasin McKenzie (The Hobbit, Leave No Trace). The relationship between Jojo and Elsa is both enlightening and humorous due to Waititi’s writing and direction.
Jojo receives his instruction from a battle injured commander, Capt. Klenzendorf portrayed by Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Moon).
Rockwell is supported in the Nazi regime by Stephen Merchant (Extras, Logan), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) and Alfie Allen (Game Of Thrones, John Wick).
Waititi ’s telling of WWII Germany is reminiscent of Mel Brook’s comedic view of the world. Though the film is a humorous look at a serious subject, it may be what is needed to bring light to the subject of the holocaust for younger generations who have no direct connection to the second world war.
When I asked McKenzie about taking direction from Waititi when he was dressed as Hitler said, “Although he was dressed as Hitler, Taika is so like the complete opposite of Hitler, so I never really noticed what he was wearing.” “Though every so often he would look in the mirror and realize what he was wearing” and he would go ‘Oh Gawd I look like that’, she said mimicking Waititi shaking his head. McKenzie added that the cast and crew were keenly aware of the material being presented in the film due to the subject matter and due to the location, they were filming was a studio in Prague where Nazi propaganda films were shot.
“It was ironic that we filmed JoJo Rabbit there (Barrandov Studios) so in a way, it has come full circle”, added McKenzie.
The movie does the difficult job of showing a difficult topic with the light hand of a humorous presentation without losing its key message. Waititi’s masterful eye as a filmmaker is undeniable and this film paves the way toward his future accolades and success.