Jake Johnson’s ‘Self Reliance’ makes for memorable feature directorial debut

Mimi Calzada, Life&Arts Desk Editor

This review contains spoilers. 

Written, produced, directed by and starring Jake Johnson, “Self Reliance” follows Tommy (Johnson) who accepts an invitation to participate in a dark web reality TV show where other participants hunt and attempt to kill him. If he survives for 30 days, he wins $1 million.

Johnson’s feature directorial debut makes for a very enjoyable yet confusing experience. With just an 85-minute runtime, the film wastes no time in jumping right into the plot when actor Andy Samberg pulls up in a limo, picks Tommy up off the street and takes him to a nondescript warehouse where he inevitably accepts the offer to be hunted.

This film’s supporting cast makes for one of the movie’s highlights with Emily Hampshire and Mary Holland playing Tommy’s sisters. The sibling trio displays effortless chemistry in tense moments, such as the scene where Tommy’s family stage an intervention because of their concern with his mental health. Tommy tries –- and fails — to convince his family of his situation because of a loophole he discovered to help him win the game: He can’t be killed if he’s alone.

When his family refuses to believe him, Tommy decides to put an ad on the internet looking for another participant. Maddy (Anna Kendrick) answers this ad, and the pair decides to spend all of their time with each other to ensure their safety and winnings. Kendrick and Johnson charm audiences with their combined eccentric behavior while also delivering hilarious performances whenever they share the screen.

The film suffers from some moments of absurdness that don’t always pay off. From getting attacked by a man dressed like Michael Jackson to getting chased by a sumo wrestler and samurai, “Self Reliance” often falls back on the gag of its characters trying in vain to explain their absurd scenario to outsiders. These bits induce a hearty laugh the first time around, but lose their novelty as the movie goes on.

All in all, with a unique plot and earnest performances, “Self Reliance” proves itself as a enjoyably peculiar story and a memorable feature directorial debut from Jake Johnson.

3 ½ failed interventions out of 5