JO JO RABBIT – Review by Susan Granger

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New Zealand-born Taika Waititi certainly isn’t the first filmmaker to mock Nazi Germany. Charlie Chaplin ridiculed Hitler in The Great Dictator, Mel Books lampooned him with Springtime for Hitler, as did Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful and Quentin Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds.

But Taika Waititi’s approach is unique. Set in the fictional town of Falkenheim in Germany during the closing months of W.W.II, he focuses on plucky 10 year-old Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who is “massively into swastikas” and besotted with his imaginary friend, buffoonish Adolf Hitler (Waititi).

An avid member of Jungvolk of the Hitler Youth, Jojo eagerly heads off for training camp, only to be publicly humiliated by Capt. Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and book-burning Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) for not wringing the neck of a tiny rabbit.

Then, one day, Jojo discovers that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), has been secretly harboring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a frightened Jewish teenager, behind a wall in their home. Stunned that she doesn’t have horns, a forked tongue and a tail, he quizzes Elsa about Jews.

“We’re like you, but human,” Elsa explains, adding, “You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a 10 year-old boy who likes dressing up in a funny uniform.”

Jojo is caught in a moral conundrum. If he turns in Elsa, he’s betraying his mother. If he doesn’t, he’s betraying his friend Adolf. And the film chronicles his gradual realization that everything he believes to be true about the Fatherland is a monstrous lie.

As delusional Jojo, Roman Griffin Davis is nothing short of amazing, along with Archie Yates as his best friend.

Loosely based on Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies, Waititi’s timely satire veers from playful parody to real-life terror, boldly treading the thin line between fantasy and drama.

FYI: On this father’s side, Taika Waititi is Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand; on his mother’s side, he’s Russian-Jewish.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Jojo Rabbit is an intriguing, edgy 8, reminding younger generations what happened more than 70 years ago.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.