The Art of Self Defense

Going into this week, I knew that the latest rendition of The Lion King was going to be in the cinemas. With how I now ask my friends on Facebook which movie I will be seeing every weekend, I was surprised when the vote was for The Art of Self Defense. I know a lot of Disney fans. I suspect the trolls are busy.

The Art of Self Defense stars Jesse Eisenberg as Casey, a timid accountant who is mugged one evening. The beating he received during this event was so severe that it put him in the hospital. Not wanting to go through another such traumatic experience, he decides to take up karate at a local school. This is about as straightforward of a summation that you can give of the film.

The Art of Self Defense is billed as a dark comedy. I genuinely laughed once, chuckled lightly a couple of other times. It was a difficult film to get through. Casey was bullied not just by his attackers, but by his co-workers, people at stores, and even his own Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) at his dojo. Having been the victim of bullying myself, I found this aspect of the movie difficult to watch, though that was not Casey’s only trait that hit too close to home. He was also lonely and perhaps too eager to seek self-validation in others. So why the makers of this little yawn-fest thought any of this would be funny is beyond my comprehension.

While I might have found The Art of Self Defense painful psychologically and dramatically, I cannot say it was not a well crafted film. Casey starts off in one place emotionally–weak, afraid, timid–and by the end of it he is (spoiler alert) shooting his Sensei in the head. Hooray, an arc, though one could question how complete is the transformation with his penchant for the yellow belt. But how do we get from shrinking violet to pistol-toting murderer? It was not as simple as a throat punch to your boss, which Casey also does. Credit his dedication to not being bullied, though, despite it leading him to taking part in the very act that landed him in the hospital. So there was depth, but not the kind of depth for which I typically care.

Ultimately, The Art of Self Defense was just sad. There was a happy ending, but it involved homicide. There was a romance between Casey and Anna (Imogen Poots), but very understated. In short, there was a lot I could have done without here, and I was glad I went to Confession the next day.

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