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'Jojo Rabbit': A 'Brilliantly Funny' Nazi Satire

Kimberley French
© 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
(From left) Thomasin McKenzie, Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi in the film "Jojo Rabbit."

Making fun of Nazis isn't a new trend in film — Charlie Chaplin did it in the 1940 film The Great Dictator, Mel Brooks made The Producers, and Quintin Tarantino made Inglorious Bastards.

The newest Nazi satire film Jojo Rabbit looks at Nazi Germany during World War II through the eyes of Jojo Betzler — a 10-year-old boy with a blind fanaticism for the Third Reich. Taika Waititi directed and wrote the screenplay, which is based off of Christine Leunens' novel Caging Skies.

Jojo's life is turned upside down when he discovers his mother Rosie is part of the resistance movement and is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided through these trials by his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself), Jojo learns to look at life a bit differently.

The film features Roman Griffin Davis in his film debut as Jojo and Scarlett Johansson as his mother Rosie. Also in the film are Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates, Thomasin McKenzie, and more.

Although some people may initially see the film's premise as controversial, film contributor Ryan Jay thinks audience reaction varies on life experiences. Jay was raised Jewish, and he admits it was hard for him to laugh at Jojo Rabbit right away.

"When I allowed myself to give in to the point of the film and the beauty in the comic timing of it and writing of it, I was laughing as well," says Jay. "And it is brilliantly funny."

Part of why the film works is because the story is told through the lens of a child, allowing Waititi to walk a tightrope to infuse the film with the "tragedy of [the Holocaust] balanced by this levity," according to Jay.

McKenzie portrays Elsa, the Jewish teenager hiding in Jojo's attic. Jay says, "She is a role that I've never seen written or portrayed before ... The role is so powerfully written. We don't see roles like this — for men or women."

"I've never seen a World War II Holocaust movie or Nazi film that is this brightly colored and that has this tone to it."

Jay was also particularly impressed with Johansson's role as Jojo's mother. "I think she's had several peaks throughout her career and this year seems to be another one," he notes.

While most war time films tend to be darker and have a more muted visual pallet, Jay says Waititi's film has "a bit of Wes Anderson quality" to it.

"I've never seen a World War II Holocaust movie or Nazi film that is this brightly colored and that has this tone to it," Jay says. "In terms of scoring and soundtrack and the rest of it, there is a lot of brightness to it. I think that's part of what makes this film stand out in comparison to other movies as well is those design elements."

While initial looks at the film could imply that Jojo Rabbit is making light of Nazism, Jay believes Waititi accomplished making a quality "anti-hate satire."

"If you're curious, go judge Jojo Rabbit for yourself," says Jay.

Ryan Jay is one of our regular film contributors and a nationally syndicated radio host and resident reviewer on Channel 4’s The Morning Blend and Saturday News.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
Ryan Jay is one of Lake Effect's regular film contributors. He's a nationally syndicated radio host and resident reviewer on Channel 4's The Morning Blend and Friday and Saturday News.