‘Jojo Rabbit’ review: Clever, brave satire one of the best movies of the year

WATCH: 'Jojo Rabbit' trailer

When you hear that a movie is a satire about Adolf Hitler, Nazism and the persecution of Jews, it’s hard to blame yourself for being skeptical or very, very uncomfortable. Subject matter as heavy as this portion of human history, which saw the murders of millions of Jews, seems impossible to convey in an even marginally humourous way.

Somehow, director Taika Waititi‘s Jojo Rabbit manages to succeed. It stumbles out of the gate, as the audience is unsure how to react to what they’re seeing onscreen, but really, how else to approach this except to dive right in? Waititi rips off the Band-Aid, and slowly you begin to understand his master plan and what he hopes to achieve with the movie.

What is that, exactly? What is Waititi trying to do here?

Its genius is in its simplicity. Once the movie is over and you think on it, it’s a wonder that no director in cinema history has attempted something like this. The movie’s message is plain: love, not hate. It’s easier to accept someone than it is to discriminate against them — a necessary message for the world we’re all currently living in.

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There has been some lukewarm reaction to Jojo Rabbit, and clearly the studio wants you to know what you’re getting into, as they’ve tacked on a two-minute Waititi testimony before the movie to explain what you’re about to see.

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There have been plenty of World War II movies. Why is this one so special?

This is nothing like any other WWII movie out there, and that’s a guarantee. The story is told from the perspective of young boy Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who’s a member of what resembles the Hitler Youth. He lives and breathes Hitler (Waititi), and idolizes him as his hero. One day, he discovers — much to his dismay — that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in their home.

The way things progress for Jojo is captivating, entertaining and, believe it or not, fun. With the exception of one or two emotionally gut-punching scenes, on the whole, the film is something of a romp, with a bumbling Hitler coming across as nothing more than a rambling idiot. (Interestingly, Waititi knew no actor would want to take on the role, so he cast himself.) Even war scenes are comical, reminiscent of Monty Python ridiculousness or Mel Brooks’ sharp, cutting humour.

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Isn’t that a bit flippant considering the subject matter?

I am not Jewish, so it’s hard for me to say how I’d react to a movie like this if I were. Distant family members of mine died at Auschwitz, so I do have a slight connection, but I think the message of the movie outweighs any potential offensiveness. Again, that is just me, and I don’t hope to speak for anyone else.

Is there singing and dancing?

There is some dancing, but… you’ll see. And no, this is not a musical, so don’t expect Waititi to break into song at any given moment. The acting in the film is astounding (excluding Johansson’s fluctuating accent, which changes in every scene), especially from the charismatic Davis, whose face is so charming and expressive. Waititi nails Hitler as much as anybody could, and completely defangs the dictator. McKenzie is also a scene-stealer.

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So what’s the bottom line?

Expect Jojo Rabbit to shatter your expectations. It is one of the smartest, if not the smartest, movies of the year. Its message of acceptance is pertinent to any epoch of humanity, and many of us would benefit from its words. What boggles the mind is the simplicity of it all, how the way we should treat each other is so easy to do, even in the face of a grandiose, formidable enemy like Hitler and the Nazis. This should be required viewing in schools.

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‘Jojo Rabbit’ opens in Toronto on Oct. 25, expanding to across Canada after the opening weekend.

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