How can you not love a movie that begins with marching storm troopers singing the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” in German, and a score that includes Tom Waits, Roy Orbison and ends with Love’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live?”

“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi’s dark, bright, funny, sad, scary and uplifting black comedy taken from Christine Leunens’ book, is here in town to tickle our ribs, slap our faces and make us think just when it’s not healthy to think anymore.
Think of “Jojo” as a kind of German goulash, a mix of Wes Anderson’s 2012 ‘Moonrise Kingdom,” Mel Brooks’ “The Little Rascals and Warner Brothers’ “Battleground.”
“Jojo” is yet another attempt to brighten the wallpaper on Anne Frank’s attic closet, and show us what the Boy Scouts of America looked like in swastika armbands and cute lederhosen.
Taika’s sharp, brilliant flashes of writing and directorial claps of cinematic thunder put it all together perfectly.

The star: Young Roman Griffin Davis, who plays Jojo — a Nazi Boy Scout who really wants to grow up, take Hitler’s teachings to heart and conquer the world — debuts here. You’ll want to adopt him.
Clothed in a brown shirt, swastika armband, black shorts and tie, Jojo joins the other boys, who wouldn’t know a Jew if a menorah fell on them, to become the boys in the bandoliers.

Our Hitler, by actor-director Waititi, is Jojo’s imaginary play-pal. At first cartoonish — ranting and spitting, sweating and shaking the podium like someone on your TV screen — he has other moves to make, like climbing into the windows, and dives out of them when reality gets too close. In his best Mel Brooks-ish moments, he whines about his baggy pants and lack of support from his generals who tried to kill him.
As writer-director, he gives us stars who know how to handle black satire: Scarlett Johansson is superb as Jojo’s pretend Nazi mother Rosie, who charms the Gestapo while hiding a Jewish girl in her hidden closet.
There is the great Sam Rockwell, who keeps getting greater with every picture, as a comic German officer who lost one eye by messing up in combat and has been reassigned as the “scout leader” for his tribe of murderous munchkins.
Oscar-winner Rockwell brings many of the biggest laughs, as he teaches his kids how to throw a hand grenade and strangle a cute rabbit (from which the title comes) and in his final scenes, beset by the Russians, puts one bloody finger on our hearts and breaks them.

A team of Gestapo agents, led by the hilarious Stephen Merchant, arrive to search Rosie’s house. All dressed in identical long black coats, gloves, hats and glasses, they keep “Heiling” one another while admiring Jojo’s poster-plastered bedroom.
They’re looking for Elsa, a young girl they suspect is being hidden in the building. While they’re there, she walks out to confront them, and the next few scenes make it hard to breathe. But this is Waititi’s card game, and here, he shuffles the deck.
Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie, whom we remember as the fugitive daughter from Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” delivers a cool, controlled survivor who pulls Jojo back from the brink and teaches him how to dance.
Each of the players in this beautifully insane chess game of madness bring a special light of their own to foist off the darkness that surrounds them.
But it’s Waititi, walking the sets in full Hitler costume while moving all the pieces around and never losing control, who takes home the cup.
“Jojo Rabbit,” a magnificent black cloud with a silver lining, couldn’t have come for us at a better time.

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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