If Andy Samberg ever invites you into a limousine, do not accept.
Self Reliance, written and directed by Jake Johnson, is a refreshing and thought-provoking film that explores the theme of personal growth and self-discovery in a lighthearted yet impactful way. The director's unique storytelling approach and attention to detail shine throughout the movie.
The set up is pretty simple. Tommy (Jake Johnson - Tag, New Girl), is offered one million dollars if he can survive thirty days while being hunted by assassins. The saving grace is that he cannot be killed as long as he is with someone. Anyone. Doesn't matter who. Not happy with the course of his life, Tommy jumps in with both feet.
One of his first actions is to tell his family about the game and the rules. Their disbelief adds a fantastic layer of humor throughout the film. His sisters Amy (Mary Holland - Veep, The Big Door Prize) and Mary (Emily Hampshire - Schitt's Creek, 12 Monkeys), brother Malcolm (Daryl J. Johnson - Class Rank, Punk'd), as well as mom, (Nancy Lenehan - Veep, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan) don't belief him at all, brining up past lies and exaggerations he's told to prove their point. They even go so far as to hold an intervention when Tommy's adventure becomes too much for them. Malcolm becomes more involved as he's Tommy's first partner that must always stay by his side. It fails miserably as Malcolm doesn't want to sleep with his adult brother and certainly doesn't want to poop while someone is watching. Both happen the first night together. Tommy is quickly put into a bind as he's not welcome anymore.
Enter homeless man rummaging through the garbage, James, later to be discovered that his real name is Walter (Biff Wiff - Everything Everywhere All at Once, Night Court). James becomes Tommy's mainstay partner through most of the film, which turns into a touching relationship. It's also a great plot point as his family understands even less why he's spending so much time with an unkempt vagabond.
Tommy does punch upward with a better partner in Maddy (Anna Kendrick - A Simple Favor, Pitch Perfect), who is clearly better looking and appears to have more in common with him. They develop a cute relationship as Tommy realizes he needs this kind of human interaction after spending years pining after his long lost high school sweetheart, Theresa (Natalie Morales - (No Hard Feelings, Santa Clarita Diet). Theresa has very much moved on as she is in a new relationship and has a baby with him.
Needless to say, Tommy and Maddy experience some crazy twists and turns, including encouraging him to confront Theresa about her decision to leave him. All this while avoiding assassins and dealing with family.
The conclusion leads to Tommy discovering who he wants to be and even more so, who he wants to be with. Even with a funny cameo big with Wayne Brady, his family still does not believe his story about the game.
Jake Johnson's direction, in his debut as a director, allows the actors to convey the nuances of their roles, making the characters feel authentic and endearing. The film masterfully captures the journey of self-discovery, showcasing Tommy's struggles and triumphs in a way that resonates with the audience.
The writing in Self Reliance, also done by Johnson, is clever and witty, injecting humor into moments of reflection and introspection. It's a really good snapshot of Johnson's kind of dry sarcastic humor. The dialogue feels natural, and the screenplay skillfully balances comedy with deeper, more contemplative moments. Johnson's ability to infuse the script with both heart and humor adds layers to the narrative, making it an enjoyable and fulfilling viewing experience.
Visually, the film is aesthetically pleasing, with well-crafted cinematography that complements the overall narrative. The use of visuals to convey the characters' emotions and the progression of their journeys adds an extra dimension to the storytelling.
My final analysis, Self Reliance is an entertaining film that successfully navigates the complexities of self-discovery with humor and heart. It's definitely a dark comedy. I wouldn't put it at the dark level of Death to Smoochy, or World's Greatest Dad because it's got a lighter self awareness tone. That being said, this is by no means a Dumb & Dumber or Hangover laught til your sides ache comedy. Jake Johnson's direction, coupled with a talented cast and a well-crafted script, makes this movie a commendable addition to the dark comedy genre. Whether you're a fan of introspective films or simply looking for an enjoyable cinematic experience, Self Reliance offers a compelling story that leaves you contemplating the meaning well after it fades to black. I would recommend a viewing. You can currently find it on Hulu.
Check out the trailer below: