Jake Johnson is a lowkey fave, always and forever appreciated for his perfect performance as Nick Miller on New Girl but also appreciated for his great taste in projects outside of the hit sitcom that made him famous. He spent the hiatuses of his New Girl years wisely, often collaborating with filmmaker Joe Swanberg on character-driven oddball comedy-dramas like Drinking Buddies and Win It All, with the occasional trip into (less good) studio films like Neighbors and Tag to keep the bills paid. (And there was that one time he made The Mummy with Tom Cruise, for which he gets a pass because the general consensus is, especially among men of a certain age in the industry, that no one passes on the chance to work with Tom Cruise.)
Having a role like Nick Miller would be enough for anyone’s career, but Johnson scored again with Minx, a series about a female-driven porno mag in the 1970s in which he plays a sleazy porn publisher/secretly okay dude named Doug. If you haven’t seen Minx, do yourself a favor, it starts strong and gets better (both seasons are streaming on Starz after HBO/Max dumped it). And now Johnson is stepping behind the camera, making his feature directorial debut with Self Reliance, about a guy being hunted by humans for money.
Johnson stars as a guy who agrees to participate in a reality show for the dark web in which he will be hunted by humans for one month. If he survives, he wins a million dollars. The catch is that the hunters can’t get him if he’s in the company of other people, so he partners with another player in the game to survive, played by Anna Kendrick, with whom he co-starred in Drinking Buddies and Digging for Fire. So it’s a rom-com with the premise of The Most Dangerous Game. Johnson also wrote Self Reliance, which premiered last spring at SXSW, and will debut on Hulu in January. I’m a little bummed it’s skipping theaters, because Jake Johnson is one of those actors who can get an audience going, but it looks just weird enough that I bet the studios panicked at the idea of marketing it.
Hulu didn’t, though, they just dropped a three-minute trailer that fully lays out the plot and teases Johnson’s reunion with Anna Kendrick and the involvement of The Lonely Island, who executive produced the film, which ought to be a huge clue about the humor right off the bat. The Lonely Island are brilliant, but their feature films Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping are both box office bombs that turned into cult classics.
Self Reliance doesn’t look like a Lonely Island film, but it has a similar vibe of “you’re either with it or you’re not, no middle ground”. Any film that includes Jake Johnson, The Lonely Island, and I Think You Should Leave breakout star Biff Wiff isn’t going to be for everyone, but it will definitely find an audience. The Venn diagram slice might be narrow, but it exists, and I am in it.