EXCLUSIVE: For Taika Waititi, the birth of Jojo Rabbit goes back to mom. It was his Jewish mother who brought Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies to his attention, and he became immediately smitten. Speaking at the Toronto Film Festival, he described Jojo Rabbit as a “love letter to mothers, especially single mothers,” as Waititi grew up mostly with mom.
The plot follows Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who becomes entranced by being a member of the Hitler Youth even though he doesn’t quite fit in. He draws inspiration from his imaginary, kooky friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi). However, when Jojo learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the boy’s brainwashed beliefs become challenged.
The movie, which won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at Toronto (an Oscar Best Picture bellwether), has been likened to such WWII comedies as Life Is Beautiful, and the Charlie Chaplin Hitler satire The Great Dictator. “I scoured the Earth for the perfect actor and sometimes your search for the right person is staring at you right in the mirror,” Waititi joked at Deadline’s The Contenders London about deciding to play Hitler himself.
Says McKenzie on how Jojo Rabbit organically wags a finger at the current acerbic political climate in western Europe and the U.S.: “That happens quite a lot, I find, where films come out and they weirdly reflect or are like a mirror to what’s actually going on in the real world. Which is why, for me, film is such an important medium. Because people are able to see things from a different perspective, and think about them in a different way. So in that kind of way, film is such an amazing piece of magic or treasure that is really valuable.”
Among Jojo Rabbit’s awards pedigree, the Fox Searchlight release counts two Golden Globe noms, for Best Motion Picture – Comedy and for Davis as Comedy Actor; SAG Awards noms for cast ensemble and Johansson as supporting actress; as well as seven Critics’ Choice nominations including Best Picture. The pic has been a bright spot at the specialty box office during the fourth quarter on its way to hitting $21 million before the New Year.
Read his adapted screenplay here.