Story: Jojo Beltzler is ten years old, loves his mom, and has an imaginary best friend. Awwww, right? Well, his imaginary best friend is Adolph Hitler, and Jojo is a member of the Hitlerjugend. So…kinda not so aw. But when Jojo finds a young Jewish woman – hidden in their house by his mother – he has to re-think his world view. It’s gonna take some time though.
Genre I’d put it in: Satirical Historical Adaptations
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies.
Gotta say: Jojo is a blend of all sorts of genres; satire, commentary, WWII historical drama, absurdist comedy, philosophical … I could go on, but you get the idea. Writer/director/Imaginary Friend Taika Waititi has a whole lot to say, and while he may not have scored a ten on the dismount, there’s plenty that will impress.
As Jojo, Roman Griffin Davis (in his first screen role) perfectly encapsulates a ten-year-old boy trying to balance his youthful optimism with his indoctrinated beliefs. He’s not always on the side of good, and that makes for a believable character. Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie is the mom everyone wishes they’d had, all love and open-hearted goodwill. But the real scene stealer is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, a young woman trapped in a hideaway trying desperately to stay alive. The interactions between youthfully idealistic Jojo and frightened but steely Elsa are beautifully written, and the actors deliver performances that had me glued to the screen.
A few moments feel shoehorned in – like the homoerotic chemistry between Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf and Alfie Allen as Finkle, “Captain K”‘s second-in-command – but I enjoyed them all the same. These moments feel like levity to highlight the real hypocrisy in the Third Reich. Ditto for Rebel Wilson’s Fräulein Rahm, who is proud of the eighteen babies she’s had for the Reich, yet sends boys out to kill and be killed. While I felt slightly pulled out of the story by the brashness of these moments, I also wanted to applaud Waititi for slipping them in.
With its scattershot emotional journey, Jojo may not be for everyone. Yet I loved the honest performances, and the way the story turned from lighthearted satire to heavy hitting drama as the film reached its climax. It’s certainly a film that will be talked about by many, and as someone in the “remember history or we’re doomed to repeat it” camp, that’s something I can definitely get behind.
#Protip: Paper clothing? Yeah, that was actually a thing.