I love risks. I love originality. Actors and directors that venture past the expected and make something that surpasses both social norms and expectations are few and far between. In a realm of Hollywood where non-IP and sequels act as the cliched big red button of financial gain, movies that rise above that rank deserve more attention that word of mouth can generate.

Now stepping off my soap box, and with the year winding down, it’s time to begin making the annual year-end lists. The end of the year usually throws late wrinkles into one’s initial catalog, and I personally just stepped into such a wonderful pitfall.

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Jojo Rabbit is a heartfelt adventure that blends comedic satire with the relatability of fragile childhood innocence. A simple premise of a young boy trying to figure out his place in the world and his own believes is twisted with a German World War II setting and an imaginary best friend in Adolph Hitler. It sounds absurd, and that’s because it is. Jojo Rabbit (through its own unique way) reminds the audience of how it once was young and impressionable, and how fighting through initial overbearing impressions of society (and proper behavior) to find one’s on understanding is not a straight road. Director Taika Waititi takes this wonderfully ludicrous idea and spins a story that is filled with more heart than many overbearing WWII dramas.

Jojo Rabbit moves at a breakneck past setting up the main character, Jojo, played by Roman Griffin Davis. We are introduced to the 10-year-old as he’s double “hail Hitlering” down his hometown’s cobblestone streets. Safe to say he is not as tough as other young Nazi enthusiasts, and an attempt to prove his self-worth ends up with him back at home with his mother Rosie, played by Scarlett Johansson.

The pairs relationship is delicate with Rosie hiding her true thoughts away from her son to protect him. Throughout the movie Jojo is finding himself more open to these “radical” ideas of freedom and peace, but he doesn’t know how to act upon them. His curiosity comes when he discovers Elsa, a young Jewish woman who Rosie is hiding in their home.

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Waititi’s direction for the introduction to Elsa to Jojo is hilarious. He has actress Thomasin McKenzie and Griffin Davis act out every single horror move trope; the elongated fingers on the door, the falling down the staircase, the creepy head around the corner, the rush to frame. It’s the perspective Jojo is feeling, but the obvious overbearing comedy is a highlight in Jojo Rabbit’s overall confidence as a movie.

Naturally Jojo and Elsa begin to develop a relationship. It’s expected, but it’s not boring by any means. The screenplay, written by Waititi based off Christine Leunens’ novel, immediately makes it like a sibling rivalry.  Anyone who grew up with siblings can relate to the bribery, bartering, empty threats and over-embellishment that Jojo and Elsa share. The writing is crisp and quick, and Waititi is not afraid to incorporate some quick cuts to hasten their deliberations even more.

Through the lens of boyish naivety, Jojo is reminder of what it was (and often still is) to have your preconceived notions be shattered. The first inklings of love, sympathy, compassion and connection. All such emotions through a young mind into a tizzy, and Jojo is forced to confront them with only an over-emotional imaginary Hitler to truly confide in…at first at least. Jojo Rabbit does shy away from the awkwardness emotional maturity and discovery; rather it sheds wonderfully comedic spotlight on it.

All of the performances in Jojo Rabbit are strong. There are no performances that take you out of the movie. Griffin Davis and McKnezie are the two highlights. Johansson is steady, but her scene acting out Jojo’s father with the fireplace charcoal is the highlight. Sam Rockwell is perfect for the lazy and shamed Captain Klezendorf and Waititi makes made up Adolph just the picture-perfect amount of over-the-top crazy.

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There is one heat-check spot performance that is also the funniest scene of the movie. Stephen Merchant steps into the frame for 10 minutes as an SS Jew hunter and immediately steals the spotlight. The abundance of awkward “Hail Hitlers” he and his accompaniments go through is hilarious. Then when he is reading Jojo’s book, Merchant is just perfectly delivering the lines. Shout out to Merchant for coming in and making the most of a rather minimal role. Just an awesome surprise; it’s the little things like that which can elevate a movie even more.

Jojo Rabbit deserves awards attention. It’s a superbly original idea that brings more emotion than it has any right to. The characters are all memorable and the direction is some of the best pure storytelling Waititi has done in his career. Jojo Rabbit is a must watch for 2019.

STANKO RATING: A-

“Jojo Rabbit” IMDB
“Jojo Rabbit” Rotten Tomatoes

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