The Art Of Self-Defense
If there’s ever a craving for a small film to fall in love with during a summer of Disney-like studio productions flooded with remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels, this is the film to go out and watch. Unfortunately, blockbusters dominate the box-office and are indicative of the general movie going audience’s stingy wallets.
I get it.
I’m a family of 3 and invest a pretty penny into our entertainment. Imagine bigger families with multiple kids, concessions, or sitters. Theater going is an investment for some and I can’t blame others who rather put that money into something else or properties that should be a surer thing. And, after it all imagine if what you worked so hard to watch wasn’t all that worth it. Imagine you get indie film that was weird as balls, gross out, boring, or mis-marketed trash.
I personally haven’t experienced a lot of those this year, but I also know my pallet is more refined and I’m a bit of an atypical movie goer. I see everything. Films for me and those that weren’t. A lot of the smaller films that debut may be written for audiences with particular sensibilities. “Midsommar” isn’t trying to get 10-year-old kids into their theaters.
At least I hope not…
“Booksmart” regardless of how excellent of a film it is, isn’t trying to grab your uncle’s attention away from the NBA playoffs and get him out to the movies to take in a strong female led and directed Teen Comedy. So, when it comes to “The Art of Self-Defense” the only shot it has to beat the odds, is to breakthrough all the distractions of life, disarm your sensibilities and reach that niche audience that will love this film for everything it is, and have word of mouth be its biggest champion.
Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a socially awkward, yet hilariously functioning single man, working a mundane accounting job, lives alone with his overly coddled Dodson, and fears every other man in his life. One night he is gruesomely mugged and hospitalized. His every day fear that crippled his life propels him to try and for once defend it. A small Karate academy catches his attention and later his regard. A new-found sense of dignity grows within his loins as his thirst to become everything he fears manifests in a shockingly fatal way.
I’m being purposely vague in my plot synopsis as this film is a delectably dark piece of storytelling that is straightforward yet outwardly symbolic and I loved it all and hope you do too. This film, written and directed by Riley Stearns (who I’m not familiar with) has a lot to say.
Like, a lot to say.
And, the way he says it is cinematically disarming too. There’s a blunt and uncomfortably direct dialogue dispensed by all the characters in this film, which makes it a very peculiar way to craft a story, and totally works.
I’ve never laughed so hard at such dry, deadpan comedy in my entire life. The 10 of us in my theater were uncontrolled buffoons just busting a gut at the slick writing employed in this script. The way the dialogue is written, there’s not much subtext like in other films that would rely on the actor’s performance to bring out the underlying meaning. This script says it all. Like, it says everything on every character’s mind and it’s the performance of Eisenberg, Nivola, and Poots that deliver all the dark humor timed impeccably.
Casey is weak. Weak in stature, weak in character, and weak in mind set. Jesse Eisenberg brings all his quirk and bottles it up into a shaken can of elevated testosterone that explodes in the best way. His mysterious new sensei, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) is at the cause. This new mentor massages a dormant ego and nurtures it into a menacing monster which allows the audience to see a display of toxic masculinity at its worst and in all its splendor.
This tastefully paced dark comedy harkens back to the male driven Hollywood obsessions of 70’s and 80’s martial arts and action films that reinforced so many disturbing archetypes that women like Anna (Imogen Poots) had to contend. She’s the only adult female in a karate class filled with emotionally and socially stunted men. She’s ruthless, strong, sticks to the status quo yet looks for an opening to disrupt.
This brand of humor may not be for everyone. Comedies can be the most subjective genre in film and I believe Riley is fully aware of it and just doesn’t give a fuck. Every character on screen says exactly what they mean, does exactly what they want, and have no regard of consequences. It’s a unique little world that would be hard to tolerate yet screams disturbing similarities to our own.
The Art of Self-Defense is an off putting, violent, brazen, social commentary with comedic genius. This strongly written and directed dark comedy is like a blend of “Sorry To Bother You” and “The Karate Kid”. Great performances and the best dry wit I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in the theater deliver a welcomed story that combats the worst parts of being a man while not being preached at along the way.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 8/10
Director: Riley Stearns
Writer: Riley Stearns
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots
Run Time: 104 mins