By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The 15th annual Fantastic Fest genre film festival began with a glorious new entry from New Zealand director Taika Waititi. The opening night film, Jojo Rabbit takes on hate and nationalism and takes no prisoners in the process. The movie offers a wonderful mix of comedy, drama and political commentary and features stellar turns from its excellent cast. It is definitely a divisive movie, but one that has a beautiful heart at its core.
Roman Griffin Davis stars as Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler, a young German boy who is a proud member of the Hitler Youth. Jojo may be timid and shy, but lad dreams big and has a vivid imagination. His imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler himself. Jojo’s pretend buddy Adolf (Waititi) always encourages and advises Jojo, but, despite his sweet nature, shares the same hateful beliefs as the real Hitler. His mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), on the other hand, proves to be much more loving and accepting of people of all backgrounds. Jojo soon discovers this fact when he finds out that she is secretly housing a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie in their attic.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, based on Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit is a miraculous movie that absolutely won my heart. The film’s comedy had me laughing heartily and the tragic drama moved me to tears. The movie plays out like Anne Frank meets Moonrise Kingdom. So though it isn’t original stylistically, it still packs an emotional wallop.
The film features outstanding performances by Davis, McKenzie, Waititi, Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and Stephen Merchant. Its message of love did not fall on deaf ears at Fantastic Fest this year. The audience seemed to enjoy much of what this film offers and even loved the Q &A with Merchant and Waititi. It proved to be a joyous introduction to 2019 edition of Austin’s favorite genre film festival.