Self Reliance

Self Reliance (dir. Jake Johnson)

By: Adam Freed

The playful calculus of Jake Johnson’s feature directorial debut Self Reliance somehow balances the equation of a bombastic premise, a debatable reality and a surfeit amount of comedy packed into an at home thriller.  There are more than a few reasons tipping the scale against Johnson’s film working, and yet somehow his Hulu original overcomes those odds.  Spearheading the unconventional approach that Self Reliance navigates is the film’s tone, which walks the high wire between comedy and thriller, yet somehow spans the precarious chasm unscathed.  Johnson (The New Girl), who also stars in the film, plays Tommy, a product of repetitive motion who has forgotten that life is meant to be lived, and not simply survived.  Tommy’s rote existence is called into question when he is propositioned from the window of a limousine by celebrity Andy Samburg, who while lampooning himself, offers Tommy the chance of a lifetime to change his financial outlook permanently.  What ensues is a contest reminiscent of The Most Dangerous Game serving a deliciously balanced recipe of deadly and daft moments.

If Jake Johnson’s career in short form entertainment has taught him anything, it is the power of the collective ensemble.  The result of this knowledge is a cast that regardless of name recognition, gets stronger with each valuable added piece.  The most recognizable and significant of these additive contributions comes from the incomparable Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), who as Maddy, morphs Johnson’s lovable solo act into a chemistry laden two-hander.  It certainly doesn’t hurt Self Reliance that both Johnson and Kendrick are two of the more likable screen performers and their bond feels more like multiplication than addition.  Fans of the old fashioned television whodunnit will surely appreciate a script that allows for some couch sleuthing to take place.  Playing along in an attempt to decipher fact from fiction, hallucination from reality, provides an added layer of joy to the admittedly mischievous proceedings. The formula Self Reliance employs provides almost no time for audiences to tire of the story as Johnson presents event after event with a deliberate and effective pace.  Coming in just short of 90 minutes, Hulu may have found itself a bite sized stay at home hit as well as a capable new director. 

Target Score: 6.5 /10 Throwing a few recognizable faces into a twisted comedic thriller seems to have been the intent of first time feature director Jake Johnson.  The result is an enjoyably tense and playfully humorous hour and half of snappy entertainment.  The addition of Anna Kendrick to an already impactful ensemble cast makes Self Reliance worthy of a watch.