The Art of Self-Defense Review

“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 boobs (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.

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.

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the art of self-defense trailer

Jesse Eisenberg is afraid of…well…everything in The Art of Self-Defense. Eisenberg plays a nervous nebbish who decides to sign up for a karate class in order to get over his many, many fears. But as this brief but memorable trailer shows, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Watch The Art of Self-Defense trailer below.

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SXSW Day 3 2019

(Welcome to The SXSW Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the Austin-based film festival.)

Welcome to SXSW 2019 day three. In this edition: The Art of Self-Defense is masterful dark comedy about masculinity gone wrong, The Highwaymen is perfectly decent dad-tainment, Booksmart redefines the high school comedy for 2019, and Snatchers can’t quite capture its tricky blend of comedy and horror.

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Writer/director Riley Stearns has been quietly working on his follow-up to his feature directorial debut, Faults. That 2014 film starred actress (and Stearns’ wife) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was most recently gave an excellent, assured performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Now Winstead and Stearns will collaborate once again for The Art of Self-Defense.

Below, learn more about Riley Stearns’ second film The Art of Self Defense.

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