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Taika Waititi crafts a bold satire in “Jojo Rabbit”

To just hear the premise of Jojo Rabbit, one might be confused about why this movie is getting such loud Oscar buzz. After all, how many comedic looks at Nazism have been feted by awards bodies? Basically, aside from Mel Brooks and The Producers, that’s it. However, a special filmmaker like Taika Waititi has the mojo to pull it off. Not only will the Academy go for this flick (more on that later), but it’s also a powerful treatise against hate, in addition to often being very funny. It’s a very complex needle that Waititi is threading, but he manages to do it with relative ease.

The film is a satire, one set in Nazi Germany during the waning days of World War II. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a lonely German boy who sees the Hitler Youth as a way to fit in. With Adolf Hitler (Waititi) as his imaginary friend, he’s become blindly nationalistic, to the concern of his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). One day, Jojo discovers that Rosie is hiding a young jewish girl in their home. The girl is Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) and slowly, Jojo goes from anger, to fear, to curiosity about her heritage. A halting friendship begins, calling into question his hateful views. Jojo may see himself as someone Hitler would look kindly upon, but in reality, he’s just a little boy yearning to join a club. As he confronts his beliefs, the war moves towards a conclusion, setting up both triumph and tragedy. Waititi directs and pens the adaptation, with cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr., as well as a score from Michael Giacchino. Supporting players include Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Archie Yates, and more.

Despite a few small flaws, this is largely a triumph for Waititi. One can argue that the jokes could be a bit more riotous and the transitions to drama could be a bit more subtle, but aside from that, the tone and the performances carry the day. Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie are superb, with Sam Rockwell also turning in a nice supporting part (Waititi himself is solid as well). They take the filmmaker’s script and dig into it, allowing it to soar. Waititi mixes some dark moments with subversive comedy, and if it’s not on the level of Mel Brooks, it still stands out in a majorly compelling way.

Jojo Rabbit is poised to be a major Academy Award player. Look for Fox Searchlight to campaign this one across the board, sensing a potential winner. Efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for Waititi), Best Actor (for Davis), Best Supporting Actor (for Rockwell and Waititi), Best Supporting Actress (for Johansson and McKenzie), Best Adapted Screenplay (also for Waititi), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score make complete sense. In fact, Picture and Adapted Screenplay could end up being winner plays for Searchlight. The tone won’t be for everyone, but if enough voters are on its wavelength…watch out for this movie.

Starting tomorrow, a serious contender for Oscar love opens in the one of a kind satire Jojo Rabbit. The pathos on display, depicted within a ton of dark humor by Waititi, really sets it apart. The film is deeply unique and could speak to the newer segment of the Academy in a big way. Regards of its awards prospects, the flick will speak to those who want a sentimental message couched in something less saccharine. Black comedy mixes with an anti hate message here, resulting in Waititi’s most accomplished work to date. Believe the film festival hype about this one. It’s quite good and we’ll be hearing about it all season long…

Be sure to check out Jojo Rabbit, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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