Jesse Eisenberg only ever plays one of two roles: the awkward, cocky genius and the awkward, robot man. In this movie, he plays the latter. The main character, Casey Davies, struggles with his lack of masculinity. After getting mugged by a bunch of people on motorcycles, Casey enrolls in a karate course to learn self-defense and “find his masculinity.”
What to Expect
For me, the movie was pretty predictable regarding plot twists, and I saw every single one coming a mile away. The comedy made me laugh out loud a few times, but all the jokes were played completely straight and came in the form of overly exaggerated stereotypes. For example, the sensei of the karate dojo is toxically masculine and blatantly chauvinistic. The things that came out of his mouth made me laugh but also made me a little uncomfortable because I know there are people who are just… like that. These jokes made the movie feel like it was written by aliens who learned everything about humans from an encyclopedia of human stereotypes; all the characters were exaggerated to the point of mockery. Early in the movie, Casey goes to buy a gun and says it’s for self-defense. The shop owner says something like, “Just so you know, people carrying a gun are more likely to have it used against them and get shot. If you have kids, there’s a high risk of an accidental death. Also, suicide rates in gun owners are higher. Yeah. You’re gonna love owning a gun.” All of this is played totally straight, which I loved.
I know we’re all super desensitized to violence these days, but there are a couple of graphically violent scenes that come as a bit of a shock. The tone of the movie didn't set itself up for that kind of violence, and then all of a sudden, a man's arm gets broken, and it’s gross and bloody and made me flinch a bit. There’s also a brief instance of suicide where a side character hangs himself. The act itself isn’t shown on screen, but the aftermath is.
The Art of Self Defense seems to have a similar message to Fight Club; it felt like an indie movie director saw Fight Club and said, “I could tell the same message but better and with more silence.” The message of both films (for me) is that toxic masculinity is dangerous and easily manipulated. I feel that Fight Club is often taken at face value without much critical thought but in this movie, it’s much easier to see the ridiculousness and satirical nature of the film.
Should You Watch It?
Honestly? Nah. I say pass on it. The comedy isn't worth it, and there are better movies to watch where Jesse Eisenberg pretends to be a person. And if you want a martial arts film? Just go watch something that Jackie Chan directs and stars in. You’ll have a much better time.
Rating: 5 out of 20 stars. One star for every time I laughed.