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KPCW sends its most discerning moviegoers to the movies each week to let you know which films are worth going to, and which are a pass. The Friday Film Review airs after the Noon News at 12:30PM and during The Local View. KPCW Friday Film Reviewers are: Barb Bretz, Rick Brough, Mark Harrington, Linda Jager.

Friday Film Review--"Jojo Rabbit"

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A new film, “Jojo Rabbit”, hasn’t attracted much attention.  But it should.   Rick Brough has the lowdown, with this week’s Friday Film Review.

The story here you could almost expect to see in an Afterschool Special.

In the waning days of World War II, with Germany on the brink of defeat, scrawny, hapless 10-year-old Jojo Betzler strives to be a perfect little specimen of the Hitler Youth.    But when he finds that his mother has hidden a Jewish teenager in their attic, Jojo finds his whole worldview is challenged, and ultimately transformed.

The twist is that Jojo gets help and inspiration from his imaginary buddy, Adolf Hitler—or rather Hitler as a willful 11-or-12-year old.     For Jojo, the Fuhrer is Beavis to his Butthead, Spanky to his Alfalfa.     And their scared, aghast reaction to the icky Jewish girl in their house appears to be no more serious than Our Gang’s He Man Wimmin-Hater’s Club.

But of course it is more serious than that.

And to spin the film even more as a surreal satire, there’s a contemporary feel to its acting,  music, and dialogue, as two boobish Nazi authority figures, played by Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, try to ride herd on their bumbling young Scouts.    It’s like a Sundance coming-of-age movie was twisted on its side--“Wet Hot Gestapo Summer.”

When the adoration of Hitler is compared to Beatle-mania, the idea is to make fun of such idolatry—but also to show you how  ordinary people can succumb to it.    And horrible, tragic things can still happen amid the goofiness.

The man behind “Jojo Rabbit” is New Zealand comic actor Taika Waititi, who directed the film, wrote the screenplay, and who plays Jojo’s  fantasy friend—Hitler as Potsie.

Among other items, Waititi wowed them at Sundance several years back, with his tale of reality-show vampires, “What We Do in the Shadows.”

In “Jojo”, he’s done a masterful job with his cast especially the young performers.    Roman Griffin Davis, an 11-year-old making his professional debut, gets you to sympathize with a boy whose head is stuffed with horrible ideas.    A  New Zealand actress, 19-year-old  Thomasin McKenzie as the nervy fugitive Elsa, is a possible victim who doesn’t ask for your pity.

Jojo’s mom is Scarlett Johansson, giving a subtle, smart performance that I think will be remembered as one of her best.

The film hasn’t appeared in many theaters so far, which is a shame because I think it could be one of the best films of the year.    My own imaginary friend—a stuffed tiger named Ebert—is telling me to give “Jojo Rabbit” four and a half stars out of five.   For the Friday Film Review, I’m Rick Brough.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covers Summit County meetings and issues. KPCW snagged him from The Park Record in the '80s, and he's been on air and covering the entire county ever since. He produces the Week In Review podcast, as well a heads the Friday Film Review team.