Jojo Rabbit - B
Rated PG-13, 108 minutes
The touching, well-acted yet flawed dramedy "Jojo Rabbit" works better than expected given its subject matter, though its still likely to be divisive. Directed and written by Taika Watiti ("Thor: Ragnarok"), who also co-stars in the film's most controversial role of Adolf Hitler, one of the protagonists imaginary friends.
Jojo (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler (Waititi) -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.
The charming and decidedly offbeat "Jojo Rabbit" is a film that mines the Nazi's, Hitler and war in general for laughs. Based on the 2008 book "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunens, it's definitely a dark comedy that some may not find altogether funny; its opening chapters are its zaniest, and while it occasionally moves too slow, its best when it focuses on the relationship between Jojo and Elsa.
"Jojo's" flaws may be easily discernible: Waititi's controversial Adolf is a mixed bag; on one hand it provides the film with a comic distraction that keeps it from being too pensive, on the other Waititi is a hammy presence who has obviously written himself the showiest part with lines easily designed to steal scenes and end up offending some of its audience. In the end, it becomes an overused distraction and reminds that the only person able to pull off a genuinely funny Hitler was Mel Brooks' Oscar-winning "The Producers."
That said, the likable "Jojo Rabbit" also makes the Nazi's a tad too sympathetic, but it helps having a solid cast, including Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant and Rebel Wilson in some key parts. Even with them, the warm chemistry between young British actor Griffin Davis, in his film debut, and New Zealand actress McKenzie, is its heart, and underscores its themes of acceptance, love and family during heartbreaking, brutal times.
Likable, charming and flawed, "Jojo Rabbit" is ambitious, imperfect and has a draggy second act, but it does have a good message and certainly one of the best endings this year, perfectly using a beloved classic rock song. I think it's likely a tad overrated, but it's worth a look for an original, warm story and solid cast.