Taika Waititi is everywhere right now — between prepping for the Thor: Love and Thunder production, working on a secret project, and promoting his role in The Mandalorian — but he was definitely at TIFF this weekend. Of course, he was on hand for the premiere of his passion project, Jojo Hitler, which stars him as a Fonz-inspired imaginary pal (a dancing Adolf Hitler) of a young German boy (Roman Griffin Davis).
The film, which opens on October 18, debuted at the Toronto-based festival this weekend and appears to be a success so far. Although the director admitted that he really didn’t enjoy seeing himself in costume while filming, the World War II satire hit the mark with many critics. Described in the film’s synopsis as an “idiotic imaginary friend,” the film lampoons fanaticism, and Jojo’s entire outlook is turned upon its head after he realizes that his mom (Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. The movie set out to blend humor with pathos, and according to early festival reactions, that’s exactly what has happened.
There are a few critics, including Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman, who didn’t enjoy the movie. In his review, Gleiberman writes that Waititi wanted to maneuver into awards season with “Nazi Oscar-bait showmanship.” However, most critics who watched the film, including Collider’s Steven “Frosty” Weintraub praised Waititi’s balancing act, which “could have been a disaster” in another director’s hands.
Really can't believe what @TaikaWaititi did with #JojoRabbit. Takes balls to tackle the subject matter in the film and in lesser hands could have been a disaster but he's a fantastic filmmaker and just nailed it. pic.twitter.com/ZxoztBecb8
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) September 9, 2019
Slash Film’s Chris Evangelista expressed a similar sentiment.
JOJO RABBIT: Hilarious, heartfelt, and often incredibly dark. A truly unique film that deserves to be celebrated. #TIFF19
— Chris Evangelista @ TIFF (@cevangelista413) September 9, 2019
Rolling Stone‘s David Fear absolutely loved the movie, especially because Waititi used his franchise goodwill to make an “amazing” passion project.
JOJO RABBIT is the second film I’ve seen in 24 hours where a director who’s made a franchise movie used his clout to make a weird, oddball, personal passion project. It gives you hope.
Also this thing is fucking amazing. #TIFF19
— David Fear (@davidlfear) September 9, 2019
Fandango’s Erik Davis calls the movie an absurd coming-of-age tale that’s “[f]unny, bittersweet and unapologetically unique.”
#JoJoRabbit is one of the more absurd coming-of-age stories I’ve seen. Funny, bittersweet and unapologetically unique, Taika Waititi continues to prove he is among the most exciting and original voices telling stories right now #TIFF19 pic.twitter.com/Ml1e43wHK7
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) September 9, 2019
The rest of the early reactions (including one from voice of BB-8 Ben Schwartz of Parks and Rec fame) described the film as a project that veers between scary/tragic to charming/hilarious and a must-see film.