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Now on Hulu: Jake Johnson's 'Self Reliance' Is the Most Jake Johnson Movie Ever

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 14, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 14, 2024 |


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In Self Reliance, Jake Johnson plays Tommy, a guy essentially in a self-imposed quarantine since being dumped over a year ago by his girlfriend (Natalie Morales) of 23 years. Down in the dumps and living with his mom, Tommy is approached on his way to work by a limo. Andy Samberg is inside and asks Tommy if he’d like to play a game. Tommy, who has nothing to lose, agrees, only to discover that it’s a dark-web game where he’s awarded $1 million if he can survive 30 days while a group of highly trained hunters try to kill him.

There is one loophole, however: As long as Tommy is near someone else, the hunters cannot kill him. Easy, right? Not so much. Tommy cannot convince his mother and two sisters (Mary Holland and Emily Hampshire) to stick by his side. They don’t believe his incredible story because the story is unbelievable: Tiny cameras, ninja producers, Andy Samberg, and hunters dressed as sumo wrestlers, Marios, or Ellen DeGeneres impressionists. His family thinks he’s delusional, which forces Tommy back out into the world to find people to be near.

Tommy befriends a toothless bum (Biff Wiff), whom he pays to hang out with him. He also meets Maddy (Anna Kendrick) through a Craigslist ad. She’s a pathological liar who says that she’s also part of the game. Ultimately, the point of the game is not the $1 million. It’s about connection, about re-emerging. The idea had been rattling around in the head of Johnson for years, but he finally committed to it, appropriately enough, because of the pandemic.

It’s also appropriate that Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone are producers because Self Reliance feels like a Lonely Island version of David Fincher’s The Game. It is to Running Man what Palm Springs is to Groundhog Day. Most of it is a blast, so long as it aims for laughs instead of trying to be a thriller. The third act flags, however, because Johnson’s forte is comedy instead of action, and because Johnson’s attempt to execute a big narrative trick doesn’t completely work.

Still, Jake Johnson stars, writes, and directs Self Reliance so it is the most Jake Johnson movie ever, which is great if you’re a fan of the New Girl actor (or his excellent Safety Not Guaranteed). Comedically, Johnson has always struck me as a delightful combination of Charlie Day and Danny Devito, and there are a few truly hysterical sequences in the film that only Johnson could pull off (one involves a toilet and the scene-stealing Daryl J. Johnson). Kendrick is also excellent in a supporting role (reuniting with her Drinking Buddies co-star) playing a part that is about a half-step away from Kendrick’s typical character. It’s fun to see her in a movie where she’s not asked to be droll, wry, or fall back on sarcastic retorts.

I don’t know what kind of commercial prospects Self-Reliance has, but it feels like an indie movie that belongs on Hulu’s summer slate. It’s winning, goofy, and often sweet, but it falters when Johnson takes swings that are too big for a film that doesn’t need twists or frantic chase sequences to improve upon what it already is: A great comedy about re-engaging with society.

Self Reliance screened at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.