The Jonah Hill Phenomenon

by | Dec 19, 2012 | Uncategorized

Jonah Hill by Will Folsom on Flickr.

Scrolling through the channels a few nights ago, the following were my late night options:

FX–Forgetting Sarah Marshall
TBS–Night at the Museum 2
HBO–The Sitter

Jonah Hill by Will Folsom on Flickr.

Jonah Hill by Will Folsom on Flickr.

On Demand–21 Jump Street
TBS–The 40 Year Old Virgin
Encore 2–Get Him to the Greek

And of course, commercial interruptions for the release of The Watch on DVD and Blu-Ray.

I found myself flipping through each of these at some point and was amazed that they all have one thing in common: a portly, no wait…sleek, no wait…a semi-sleek Jonah Hill. Before that moment, I never actually realized that Jonah Hill was in that many movies. Since 2007, he has appeared in 20 films. Yes, 20 in 5 years! (Can you name them? Two points for each movie, and an additional point if you’ve actually seen the movie).

Yes, there is nothing new about a movie star saturating pop culture with a glut of movies in a single year: John Travolta in the 70’s and again in the 90’s. Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Pauly Shore (ok, not really Pauly Shore…but the man deserves props for Son in Law) in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And  Brad Pitt, George Clooney in the 2000s. But those guys had charisma, charm, and more importantly, they are all attractive. So what does Hill offer?

Is it his range as an actor? In those five years, he has morphed (both literally and figuratively) into a host of different people: a high-school loser, a loser turned egomaniacal super-villain, a slothful loser turned babysitter, a semi-loser intern to Puff Daddy-turned- baby-sitter for a British rock star, a nerdy loser turned cop, and nerdy savant who alters the game of baseball. Ok, so maybe he hasn’t had the diversity of roles, but there is something engaging about him. It may be his comedic timing or acting chops. But Hill’s characters actually, sort of remind of someone…or maybe rather something.

If we do a close evaluation of some of his characters, we find the following:

1. In the “40 Year Virgin,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” we have to look a little harder in the background to see Hill’s subtle brilliance.
2. In “Megamind”, Hill gets in the way, stands in opposition to us, and eventually becomes confrontational when necessary.
3. In “Moneyball” Hill is an unlikely  “wish maker” and helps provide the formula for success.
4. In “Get Him ot the Greek,” Hill accompanies the wayward, broken and lost to where where they are supposed to be going.
5. In all of his movies, Hill provides an unexpected laugh.

Hill seems to be inexplicably everywhere in a variety of ways: either in small flashes or permeating the screen, up close or a shadow in the background, as a companion or the opposition.  Come to think of it, Hill’s ubiquity can scarily feel like that of… hmmm…

(Pssst… it’s the one who may or may not be in all things.)

P.S. In 2013-2014, Hill is slated to appear in Django Unchained, End of the World,  The Wolf of Wall Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and 21 Jump Street Sequel. For those of you counting along at home, that is.


Jeff Sullivan, SJ   /   All posts by Jeff