Ten year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an ardent member of the Hitler Youth, discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in the attic. There are so many ways this scenario could have played out. But instead of a dark and gloomy slice of ‘reality’, screenwriter and director Taika Waititi has taken the opportunity to give history’s darkest moment a great big ‘F-you’. Casting himself as Jojo’s imaginary friend, Adolf (!), is genius, and watching the idiotic Fuhrer bumbling around the boy’s imagination is the perfect satire.
The movie’s irreverent tone could have taken a huge misstep with this and at other points, but instead it walks the line perfectly balanced between heart wrenching and completely hilarious.
The opening scene is just perfect. It starts with the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which they also recorded in German (seeing as they started out in Hamburg, makes sense). I was so busy squee’ing over recognising the song that it took my brain a moment to realise I wasn’t watching 1960s footage of Beatlemania. That comparison, that realisation that the same fanaticism was in play in 1940s Germany – kick to the gut, and first of many.
The juxtaposition of the humour and the dark plays throughout. For instance, Stephen Merchant (brilliantly cast as the Gestapo agent, looming over everyone) is ridiculous but at the same time, the character has so much power to destroy lives that it’s terrifying. On the other hand, the growing disillusionment portrayed by Sam Rockwell’s ‘Colonel K’ challenges the pantomime baddy portrayal of Nazi officers. Even as atrocities were being carried out, real people were trying to live real lives, as best as they could manage.
There’s so much to dissect about this movie. What is says about human beings, how ‘movements’ can sweep people up, willing or otherwise. But the real genius is that you don’t have to spend 2 hours in heavy thought – you get a funny, moving, surprising movie experience, and it’s perhaps only afterwards you realise just how much it had to teach.
Released: 1st January 2020
Viewed: 10th January 2020
Running time: 108 minutes
My rating: 9/10