Eisenberg Shines in Pitch Black, Poignant Comedy
Since people are alive, people feel at risk, at least in some situations. What happens when you feel that your safety is threatened? What happens when this person is something of a clumsy loner? It's a dangerous combination and it's precisely what we explore in The Art of Self-Defense which recently debuted at SXSW. Uncomfortable is the key word for this one. But not only cringey for the sake of it. This film has something to say and uses a cringey and dark humor to convey its message.
The Art of Self-Defense is centered on Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) and is largely put into the world of karate. Casey is a socially awkward man who does not really have friends and who navigates his daily life without ruffling his feathers. In spite of this, one fateful night, he is brutally attacked in the street, apparently for no reason. After searching for personal protection options, he goes into a local dojo, led by a charismatic Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), in order to learn how to defend himself. As Casey progresses in his training, he learns that everything in this dojo is not what it seems.
It's a difficult film to talk about without saying too much because it goes in unexpected directions. What I can say after the projection of SXSW is that there is a disconcerting brutality, mixed with a subtle humor that is extremely dark, even black at the same time. I can not emphasize this part too much. If there is an audible laugh, it comes from an uncomfortable place. The film is partly a meditation on foolishness that can make obsessed with a hobby or a specific hobby. How is the obsession sound? What is unhealthy?
In this film, the viewer constantly wonders where he is going. It keeps you on your guard. Writer / director Riley Stearns clearly has a lot to say about modern society, especially the masculinity of the toxic variety, sexism and violence. All of this is explored through the eyes of a socially clumsy outsider, which adds another dimension to the whole. Where do the marginalized deprived of their rights turn to the answers when they fear for safety in America? This is someone who has been ostracized from society by his well-meaning nature. But what happens to someone like that when a terrible event forces them to reevaluate their entire existence? There are many bad ways to do something like this.
The theme of toxic masculinity is impossible to avoid and this film adopts a clear position. Men are supposed to act in a certain way for many years and that leads to bad things. Violent things. Frankly, archetypal men never seemed as ridiculous as in The Art of Self-Defense . As a man who sometimes felt the pressure to follow the pack, it never seemed as unappealing as when I watched this movie.
Much of the story is animated by Jesse Eisenberg and her journey in how one treats the consequences of an intense personal tragedy. He learns the ins and outs of the poison that is revenge. As things progress, they become darker and darker. Seriously, so dark. It's so weird but truthful. There is a hyper-real filter on all this, as if everything was told through our protagonists with a biased perspective on the world. Everyone delivers, from the point of view of performance. Eisenberg is the star, but Alessandro Nivola is inspired by the cast. Imogen Poots, which is never extraordinary, is used a little lightly, but perfectly when you use it.
Basically, it is a fish out of the water, covered with an uncomfortable and gritty glaze. It's a strange little movie with a big point to make. Surprisingly violent and sometimes very strange. Maybe not for the casual viewer, but for those who are not put off by something outside and by something that makes you think, it 's worth trying. The Art of Self-Defense arrives from Bleecker Street on June 21st.