SIX NOMINATIONS INCLUDING BEST PICTURE
By John H. Foote
Watching this hilarious film for the first time at TIFF last September, I felt a surge of warm humour raging through me. I remember thinking watching the film, about the director and how he did it. Taika Waititi did it, he created a very funny black comedy that is also a satire about the end of the Second World War and Hitler as seen through the eyes of a child. Repeat that, a comedy about Hitler.
Truly a great comedy about Hitler as we watch the social awakening of a child which comes through terrible loss and tragedy.
Young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is 10-years old, and a Nazi zealot, a believer in all things Hitler. Blinded by his devotion he does not see what is happening in Germany, nor in his town, which is about to fall to the Americans and Russians.
His imaginary friend is none other than Hitler himself, portrayed as a cuddly, warm champion of Jojo by the director himself, Waititi. This is Adolf Hitler as you have never before seen him, funny, energetic, playful, happy but always bear in mind this is not a historical representation of Hitler, but how Jojo perceives his hero.
Sent to a Nazi youth camp, Jojo blows himself up with a grenade earning himself light duty just about the time he finds a young Jewish girl being hidden in his mother’s closet. To Jojo’s horror, his mother, portrayed by a luminous, sunny Scarlett Johansson is anti-Hitler, despises all things Nazi, and wants nothing more than for the war to end. She forces Jojo to look at the hanging dead in the street, wanting him to see the full horror of what his hero has done to humanity. It is a shocking foreshadow to what is coming when the boy finds a familiar pair of shows hanging in the town square, forever altering his belief in the Nazis.
Young Davis is a wide eyed, hyper active delight who we see find his way after terrible tragedy strikes his life. His growing friendship with the teenaged Jewish girl living in his mother’s closet is exciting to watch, because she knows more about him than he does himself. Johansson is an absolute revelation as his mother, a ray of sunshine cutting through the darkness of Nazi Germany. With untapped comic talent, Johansson is a delight, well deserving of the Oscar nomination she received for Best Supporting Actress. Sam Rockwell is, as always, terrific as a disgraced Nazi war hero reduced to teaching children the ways of the SS and Waititi steals the film as Adolf, giving the film a comic bolt of lightning every time he shows up.
Bold and daring, one can see a thousand ways this film could have failed, but it never does, not once, it always succeeds, and then goes a step beyond.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.