Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Czech Republic/New Zealand/USA, 2019. TSG Entertainment, Piki Films, Defender Films, Czech Anglo Productions. Screenplay by Taika Waititi, based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. Cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr.. Produced by Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley. Music by Michael Giacchino. Production Design by Ra Vincent. Costume Design by Mayes C. Rubeo. Film Editing by Tom Eagles. Academy Awards 2019. AFI Film of the Year 2019. Golden Globe Awards 2019. National Board of Review Awards 2019. Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019.
A ten year-old boy named Johannes, nicknamed Jojo by his intimates, is proud of his country’s move towards right-wing nationalism, so determined to be a good German that he turns his chancellor Adolf Hitler (played by the film’s director Taika Waititi) into his imaginary friend to guide and inspire him at all of life’s confusing turns. Jojo takes part in the Hitler Youth movement, mustard-coloured shirt and all, but is sent home to recuperate after an unfortunate (and very funny) training incident involving a hand grenade, and while stuck inside the house uncovers a devastating secret: his loving mother (Scarlett Johansson in a very warm performance) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in his late sister’s bedroom. At first repulsed by a member of the race that he has been led to believe is corrupt by nature and dangerous to approach, little Jojo becomes determined to help his beloved Aryan people by studying this young woman, beginning work on a book about her that will lead to his own glory. What he accidentally does, though, is fall in love with her, and as the events of this cruel period in history take their toll on his personal life, he comes to a deeper understanding of the morality of a murderous regime that he has been treating like his favourite sports team. Waititi adapts Christine Leunens’ dramatic novel Caging Skies to his own brand of insouciant humour, bringing an improvisational feel that emphasizes the absurdity of the Nazi ideology that took human life so far away from any practical understanding of human nature (best exemplified by Archie Yates as Jojo’s best friend Yorki). Whimsy is the main method of operation here, the plot revolves around a few strong set pieces that are populated with a terrific cast of actors (the best of them Sam Rockwell as a half-blind army Captain with a heart of gold) but that ultimately don’t amount to a full-course meal. It’s as if The Tin Drum were remade for the Adderall generation, giving the main character a framework of personal and political growth but shading the experience with very little detail (just look how pretentiously twee the last scene is, for example). It’s a very pleasant and amusing film, at times sublime thanks to Roman Griffin Davis‘s terrific performance in the title role and more than a few big laughs that come from small moments, but it demands far too little of its audience to be either important or unforgettable.