Arts & Leisure

“JoJo Rabbit” escapes with your heart

IN “JOJO RABBIT,” JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) confers with his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

By Jim Tortolano

The premise may seem ridiculous. It’s a kind of mashup of “Sophie’s Choice” and Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” complete with prancing Adolph Hitlers. But “JoJo Rabbit” is a one-of-a-kind film from Taika Waititi that touches both your sense of humor and your aching heart without being disrespectful to either.

Already nominated as Best Picture in the upcoming Oscars, “JoJo” tells the story of a lonely young boy in Germany toward the end of World War II who cooks up a whale of an imaginary friend: the Fuhrer himself. Of course, it’s Hitler as a 10-year-boy would imagine him. Writer-director Waititi portrays the Austrian corporal as a sort of kindly, but not too bright uncle figure. “Heil me,” he tells JoJo, good-naturedly.

JoJo (wonderfully portrayed by Roman Griffin Davis) is an eager member of Hitler Youth to the eye-rolling regard of his free-spirited and adoring mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).  His adoration for the wonders of National Socialism begin to sag when he discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl, Else (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic of their home.

Fear and amazement follow, succeeded by some mutual trust and affection, all against the background of the collapse of the Third Reich as the film unwinds. There is tragedy and heartache ahead, but also laugh-out-loud humor and – finally – a deeply satisfying if slightly zany conclusion.

In addition to the outstanding performances by Waititi, Johansson, Davis and McKenzie, there are impressive turns by Sam Rockwell as a jaded and boozy Nazi captain and by Archie Yates as JoJo’s best friend, Yorki.

Yes, it’s an offbeat premise, but carried off with much thought and compassion. When other “best picture” nominees are forgotten, silly/sad “JoJo Rabbit” will endure as a classic.

“JoJo Rabbit” is rated R for violence, racial comments, alcohol abuse, some rude humor and an animal in peril.

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