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“I want to be what intimidates me.”
Riley Stearns (Faults) returns to SXSW with a super dark, incisive comedy that asks at what point in the process of toughening up and besting our bullies do we become precisely what we fear. The Art of Self-Defense follows Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), a nervous little accountant who tiptoes through life trying not to offend anyone. He’s the kind of unobjectionable wimp who passes his free time by listening to French lesson books on tape and jerking it to photocopied pictures of **** (The Art of Self-Defense appears to be very low-key set in a pre-Internet and pre-Audible age, though it’s never too showy about its period setting). But when Casey is randomly, brutally attacked by a group of motorcyclists, he takes up karate in order to feel safe and strong.
Plot - Comparisons - Fight - Club - Dojo
There are some impossible to ignore plot comparisons to Fight Club here: the dojo is led by an enigmatic Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) and populated with worshipful men who hang onto his every word. Casey finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the culture of the dojo, irrevocably affecting every other aspect of his life. And then there’s Imogen Poots’ Anna, the dojo’s one daunting woman, who represents Casey’s inauguration, foil and redeemer in this macho new life.
And yes, like Fight Club, The Art of Self-Defense is about the draw and the downfall of prizing masculinity above all else, but it’s both far less self-serious and less self-congratulatory than Fincher’s film. Nivola’s Sensei is outright hilarious, and Casey’s dojo ascendancy is marked by such patently ridiculous lessons as “punch with your foot, kick with your fist.” Eisenberg has this compelling formality to his performance, an almost robotic primness that lasts through his arc as a feeble office drone well into his transition to ****-kicking yellow belt....
(Excerpt) Read more at: /Film
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