20 July 2019 | paul-allaer
Dark (if not black) comedy - "I want to become what intimidates me"
"The Art of Self-Defense" brings the story of Casey. As the movie opens, we get to know Casey: reading the newspaper, being mocked at work (where he audits expense reports), and generally being very timid and afraid. Then one night, when he realizes his cat is out of food, he walks to the convenience store, but upon walking back he is harassed, and ultimately severely mugged, by a group of bikers. After his recovery, one day he walks by a karate school, and on sheer impulse he walks in, and decides to take karate lessons. When asked by the head of the karate school why, Casey replies "I want to become what intimidates me". At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film of writer-director Riley Steams, who previously gave us the excellent "Faults". Here he examines what it takes to be a "man" in today's society. From having seen the movie's trailer, I expected the movie to be about Casey's transformation from an intimidated and lonely guy into a more determined fella, and there is certainly some of that in the film. But as it turns out, the movie goes much further and deeper than that in ways that I had not seen coming. The last 30 minutes are outstanding. I shan't say more due to the plot-heavy nature of the movie. Jesse Eisenberg (35 in the meantime) plays the role of the 35 yr. old Casey brilliantly. Alessandro Nivola is equally up to the task (as the head of the karate academy). Even though this is billed as a "comedy" and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments, this movie is very dark, if not outright black. Frankly, it amazes me the movie got made at all, as there is slim to zero mainstream commercial appeal (which is perfectly fine by me).
"The Art of Self-Defense" premiered at this year's SXSW to immediate critical acclaim. The movie finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended dismally: 5 people to be exact. Given the nature of the film, I wouldn't be surprised if it only gets a one week run here. But hopefully this movie will find a broader audience as it is released on other platforms. If you like your comedy dark or black, I'd readily encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.