Scarlett Johansson admits she was skeptical when her agent first approached her about “Jojo Rabbit.” “The logline is not great, so it’s impossible to pitch without sounding full crazy,” Johansson tells me.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book “Caging Skies,” “Jojo Rabbit” is a satire that takes place in Nazi Germany. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis stars as a member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler, played as a beer-bellied buffoon by Waititi. Things take a turn when the 10-year-old discovers that his mother (Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) behind a wall in their home.
“The script was such a beautiful, perfect gem,” Johansson says. “You could feel this unique voice of Taika as both poignant and then also absurd. It’s such a powerful combination.”
A comedy set in Nazi Germany isn’t exactly the stuff of Oscars, but “Jojo Rabbit” is a serious awards contender. While reviews were mixed after Fox Searchlight premiered “Jojo” at the Toronto Film Festival, it went on to win the fest’s coveted People’s Choice Award, a good sign it would be among the 10 films nominated for the best picture Oscar.
Last year’s People’s Choice winner was “Green Book,” which took home the top Oscar prize. Other recent People’s Choice winners that were nominated for the best picture Oscar: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “La La Land” and “Room.”
In fact, the last People’s Choice Award winner that failed to be nominated for the brass ring was “Where Do We Go Now?” back in 2011. (The Lebanese film didn’t even make it into the foreign language category.)
Other best picture nominees this year could include “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “Judy,” “Parasite,” “Joker,” “The Farewell” and” “Ford v Ferrari.”
Acting Oscar noms may be tough to come by for “Jojo.” In a perfect world, Davis would be recognized, but the now-12-year-old will have a difficult time slipping in next to heavyweights like Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood), Robert De Niro (“The Irishman”), Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”) and Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”). Also in the running are Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”), Adam Sandler (“Uncut Gems”), Michael B. Jordan (“Just Mercy”) and Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”).
As for Waititi for supporting, I don’t expect the Academy to jump at the chance to honor someone playing Hitler. Even Waititi admits he had trouble looking at himself in full makeup and wardrobe. “There’s embarrassment and a bit of shame,” he says.
Archie Yates, an 11-year-old newcomer who plays Davis’ best friend, steals almost every scene he’s in, but the supporting category is stacked with major players, including Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”), Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”), Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”), Al Pacino (“The Irishman”), Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”) and Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”). Buzz is also building for John Lithgow (“Bombshell”), Billy Eichner (“The Lion King”), Shia LaBeouf (“Honey Boy”) and newcomers Jonathan Majors (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Waves”).
In the end, Academy members may have reservations about voting for a Nazi parody. However, Stephen Merchant, who plays a Gestapo agent in the movie, says history is on their side. “They were mocking Hitler even when he was rising to power, and he’s been the subject of satire and mockery [ever] since,” he tells me. “The idea that we are now at a point all these years later where we feel uncomfortable joking about this subject seems strange to me.”
Even as white supremacy and far-right nationalism is on the rise?
“Satire is one of the most powerful things you have against these sorts of ideas and the sort of nonsense that [Hitler] was trading on,” Merchant says. “The fact that people are still subscribing to some of those beliefs is all the more reason to sort of laugh at it and sneer at it and poke holes in it.”
Voting for it could be next.