Monday, July 22, 2019

The Art of Self-Defense

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Dark comedy is my absolute favorite type of comedy. I love laughing at things that would usually be considered taboo. However, naturally, there are things that shouldn't be joked about. But for the most part, if you find the right thing to poke fun at, it will work out incredibly well, & will make me burst out in laughter.

The Art of Self-Defense does just that, & is one of the funniest films of this decade. The film follows Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg), a 35-year-old mild-mannered accountant. Casey lives alone with his dog, & feels incredibly out of place at work. Ultimately, Casey mostly stays inside his own little shell.

One night, Casey goes to purchase dog food. On the way back, Casey is approached by 3 people on motorcycles, & after being asked if he has a gun, is robbed & savagely beaten. While given time off work, Casey becomes insecure in his masculinity, & considers purchasing a gun for protection. However, Casey does find an outlet for his issues in a karate dojo, led by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). Casey tries a free class & likes it, eventually starting to take day classes, earning his white belt, the first belt in line.

While in karate, Casey meets Anna (Imogen Poots), a brown belt student who also teaches the children's classes, & Henry (David Zellner), a blue belt student who befriends Casey. Eventually, Casey catches the eye of Sensei & the other students, eventually being promoted to a yellow belt, while Anna & Henry are snubbed for promotions, Anna's snubbing being for her womanhood, according to Sensei.

Eventually, Casey gets himself invited to the prestigious night classes, as Sensei sees himself in Casey. But the more involved Casey gets in karate, the more he wonders about what is actually going on at the dojo.

The cast is terrific. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect in the role he was born to play: a seemingly meek person struggling with masculinity issues. Alessandro Nivola is devilishly mysterious & bitingly funny. And Imogen Poots is superb.

Riley Stearns' direction is excellent. Stearns always keeps on the edge of our seat by always staying one step ahead of the audience when it comes to where we think the film is headed.

And Riley Stearns' screenplay is brilliant. The plot deals with many relevant themes, such as toxic masculinity & gun culture, all to incredible effect. The characters are wonderfully offbeat. And the dialogue is gut-bustingly hilarious.

This is one of the best dark comedies I've ever seen. It deals with so many timely themes in such a hilarious manner, & establishes Riley Stearns as a great up-&-coming director in American independent cinema.

The Art of Self-Defense was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, July 19, 2019. It is currently showing in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI; & the Emagine Canton in Canton, MI. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity & language.

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