Moderator / Reviewer
- Apr 4, 2017
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I was honestly expecting to be completely turned off by The Art of Self-Defense judging from the trailer. I like Jessie Eisenberg’s films, but when he goes into indie movie making he’s had some less than stellar results. I had minor flashbacks to the HORRIBLE 2013 film The Double when watching the trailers, and was fully expecting to be really bored by this one. Surprise, surprise, The Art of Self-Defense actually turned out to be one of my top 5 favorite films of 2019, as it fully embraces the heart and soul of a black comedy, while infusing elements of Fight Club (if Jared Hess were helming it) as well. There’s a quirky sort of self deprecation to the role of the main character, while still being deliciously exciting and full of sardonic wit at the same time.
Casey Davies (Jessie Eisenberg) is a mousy and weak little accountant who gets mugged one night on his way to pick up dog food. Beaten to where he needs to take some time off of work, Casey becomes even more afraid of going out at night. Staying inside all day with his little Dachshund, he finally gets sick and tired of being afraid and attempts to buy a gun, only to realize that he has to wait a few days until his paperwork can go through. Desperate and terrified of life, Casey stumbles upon a local Karate Dojo, where the mysterious and powerfully intimidating Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) draws him into the world of fist and foot.
Becoming COMPLETELY enamored with the world of martial arts, Casey dives headfirst into the classes in an effort to make himself feel more powerful. The only thing is, Sensei has a few secrets of his own, and while the changes come fast and furious for Casey, he’s not able to keep up with all of the newfound energy and confidence. But it’s not until he discovers the true secret of the dojo that Casey actually finds who he really is. A journey and discovery that comes at a terrifying price, and will most certainly change the young accountant’s life forever.
The film keeps a light and airy pace with some black humor thrown in for good measure up until the 45 minute mark. At that point the story takes a VERY dark turn and becomes blacker than pitch, and the humor tends to be more guffaw worthy, but also much more limited. This second act twist actually is the biggest benefit of the film, as the first 45 minutes are ludicrous and insane that I was having a hard time seeing how writer/director Riley Stearns was actually going to wrap up the movie. This “fantasyland” twist actually works to the film’s favor, cementing the insanity of the movie as it propels itself into a near alternate universe where murder isn’t a big deal, and the bleakly comedic ending just WORKS in so many ways.
Eisenberg does his best work when he’s completely deadpan, ala Zombieland, and he does a magnificent job here carrying the main role. I was a little saddened that an amazing actress like Imogen Poots is only given a bit part, but she does what she can with the limited time on screen. The biggest surprise to me was Alessandro Nivola as Sensei. He completely stole the film in just about every scene that he’s in, and his chemistry with Jessie Eisenberg is just sensational. The two played off of each other’s deadpan humor really well, leading to some of the best scenes of the movie when the two face off (that ending had me and my friend watching with me just busting up laughing). As I said earlier. The Art of Self Defense is not for everyone, but as a fan of black indie comedies, this one just completely made my day.
Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language
• Cast and Crew Interviews
The Art of Self-Defense is a film that just totally blew me away. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy the movie AT ALL based upon the trailer, but I ended up laughing myself silly with the black humor. The tongue in cheek parodying of “toxic” masculinity as well as the outright obvious implications for a modern Fight Club were almost as perfect as you can get. The humor was ridiculously black and funny, with the second act’s delve in to the BLEAKLY black and fantastical actually being one of the best moves the film could make. The Art of Self-Defense is outright winking and nodding at the camera in a deadpan sort of way, and while it may not be for everyone, was one of the most refreshing watches that I have seen in ages. Highly Recommended.
Starring: Imogen Poots, Jessie Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Steve Terada, Philip Andre Botello
Directed by: Riley Stearns
Written by: Riley Stearns
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Runtime: 104 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 15th, 2019
Recommendation: Highly Recommended