Take what you know about dark comedies, put it in a blender with a twisted version o in the Karate kid and add in an amazingly accurate portrayal of the wrong kind of dojo and you’ve got The art of Self Defense.
This film portrays Casey (played by Jesse Eisenberg marvelously well), a man filled with fear, a man whose life is defined by his complete lack of assertiveness. He is, in essence, a jellyfish. This however is just the beginning. Casey is on a journey. That journey is one of self discovery, pain, betrayal, and finally the gaining of self respect. Now before you get all teary eyed don’t forget I did say this was the hero of dark comedies. There is some SERIOUSLY jacked up stuff that happens over the course of this film!
It starts out establishing how hopelessly inept Casey is at dealing with any kind of life situation, but after an altercation with a local biker gang, which leaves him brutally injured and hospitalized, Casey starts to reevaluate his life. At first he is more terrified than ever. He holds himself in his house refusing to go out except for work.
The beating not only crushed his body, but also obliterated what little esteem he could have possibly mustered to face the world. To this end, and for the purpose of protecting himself he turns to the most logical option, that is, the buying of a gun, but this comes with a lengthy waiting period and Casey is out for revenge, immediate revenge. Unable to complete this task Casey dejected wanders through his life until he stumbles upon a very humble dojo nestled in the bad part of town where he lives. There is no flash, or fanfare, with this building or with the interior thereof. Everything about this dojo speaks to the humility of the art.
Casey makes a decision to take up karate where he hopes he can overcome this innate fear…of everything! Casey really begins to take off under the tutelage of his sensei. He is rushed into the ranks and given an advancement faster than anyone else. That advancement come in the form of only a yellow belt however.
This kind of karate class is a bit different however. Where most karate classes will teach defense and self-preservation this class is more like a Spartan onslaught where the students are taught a very aggressive. This strikes a chord with Casey as his personality begins to change and he begins to grow a backbone, a backbone that causes him, at one point, to punch his boss in the throat. He quickly becomes kind of an apex, alpha male commanding the attention and respect of his co-workers. As I mentioned, however, this film is not without its twists!
The story line moves seamlessly through its different chapters each one progressing to a darker level, but at the same time increasing its comedic accents. In addition to that the story running is flawless, the cinematography is nothing short of exquisite, and the acting is top-notch!
I think I’ve been waiting for a film of this caliber for quite some time! It brings a refreshing, and rather dark, perspective to the screen. In fact, there are several scenes in the film which are quite shocking but played out so magnificently that you don’t feel removed from what’s going on in the scene.
There are things that occur in this film which definitely take it to a different plane. It shifts seamlessly between comedy and drama, with intense moments of action. Characters progress, change, evolve, and get twisted around leaving us, as an audience, in the rubble of this quiet, and subtle, yet brash and explosive emo-coaster of delight!
I honestly could not recommend this film more highly, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again!