NAZI GERMANY — There seems to be a "sleeper" film every year that most people don’t hear about and miss out on because the marketing isn’t as loud as a Disney remake or a superhero blockbuster.
That’s too bad, because that means some truly wonderful films are underseen and underappreciated. For example, I loved “The Peanut Butter Falcon” earlier this year and I assumed that was 2019's sleeper.
Luckily for all of use there was another gem quietly waiting in the shadows.
I keep telling people I had a chance to see “Jojo Rabbit” and the response has predominately been, “What is that?” It’s one of the most hilarious, heartfelt and enjoyable movies of 2019.
Waititi not only wrote and directed “Jojo Rabbit,” but he also plays Adolf Hitler in the film. That’s right, this movie has Hitler in it and it’s hilarious.
The movie takes place toward the end of World War II in Germany where a young boy, Jojo, is a Nazi-in-training. He is fanatical about the party — so much so that his best friend is an imaginary version of Hitler, to whom he speaks regularly.
Jojo has to face-off between his love for fascism and his love for his mother when he finds a young Jewish girl hiding in their walls.
“Jojo Rabbit” has quickly become one of my favorite movies of the year, and here is why:
It’s satire at its best
Waititi has an incredible dry wit and manages to make the normal absurd and the absurd utterly normal. His style of humor is just enough off-center to keep you on your toes and get your brain working.
You’ll find yourself smiling for pretty much the whole movie and then suddenly you’re hit with a laugh-out-loud moment. The jokes are smart, sharp and highlight satire at their absolute best.
No, the Holocaust is not funny and there is no humor in the atrocities committed by the Nazi party before and during the war, but Waititi manages to show off the ridiculousness of their belief systems. He makes you smile and shake your head at the fact people not only did these things but also that so many believed in the lies they spread.
It’s heartbreaking and beautiful
While you’ll find yourself laughing at the Nazi buffoons and the misinformed youth, you’ll also be deeply touched by the beautiful message and heartbreaking realities “Jojo Rabbit” refuses to hide from.
The brutality and senselessness of the time period in Germany are not glossed over, but rather are shown in the wings of what would seem an otherwise beautiful and happy time. The juxtaposition is often jarring, but it also makes for a strong emotional connection that is hard to understand unless you experience the film for yourself.
Waititi’s strengths have always shined through when he focuses his films and stories on relationships, whether that be between undead flatmates, a foster child and his foster parents or a small fascist and his kind mother and her young secret in the wall.
“Jojo Rabbit” may not be appropriate for younger audiences, but I think teenagers who can handle the material may be well-suited to see the film. They’ll be both entertained and touched.
The performances are stellar
Davis is sweet and sincere as Jojo, Johansson is strong and loving as his mother, Rockwell is hilarious and stoic as an out-of-place Nazi captain and Waititi is absolutely brilliant as the imaginary Hitler.
I never thought I’d be saying this about any movie ever, but you’re often waiting for Hitler to come back onto the screen.
The performances are touching, believable and heartfelt and you can tell all of the cast believed in the material and bought into the vision of the film.
“Jojo Rabbit” has an odd premise and that may make some potential audiences wary, but the movie boasts a really beautiful message. It’s a feel-good movie wrapped around a downer of a set piece sprinkled with laughs, tears and poignancy.
“Jojo Rabbit” will long be remembered as an underseen treasure and one of the best films of 2019. Check KSL.com tomorrow for a content guide for parents for the film.
"Jojo Rabbit" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence and language.