There were moments during The Art of Self-Defense when I actually had to take myself out of the movie, step back for a moment, and just let it sink in that’s it’s one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen.
I’ll spend the rest of my life quoting its lines, wearing its lines on t-shirts. A tattoo may even be in order if the movie is still funny after a few dozen re-watches—which it probably will be. Choosing exactly which line to ink on my butt cheek will be tough, though. Picking which butt cheek will be even tougher. How do I figure out which side is worthy?
Every character speaks in the absurdly hyper-masculine, deadpan literalism you remember from Dwight Schrute on The Office. For example:
“How did you sprain your wrist?”
“Playing my guitar.”
“What were you playing?”
“Really? That’s interesting, because we both know you can only sprain your wrist playing hardcore metal.”
See?! I mean, how do you not at least consider scrawling that hilarious little exchange across either side of your ass? Jesse Eisenberg stars as Casey, a total wuss who tumbles down a rabbit hole of toxic masculinity after he’s helpless to stop a motorcycle gang from mugging the self-esteem out of him. Casey signs up for a karate class led by a mysterious sensei named Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), who instructs him to only listen to death metal, get rid of his lapdog, consider changing his effeminate name, and to make sure everything in his life is “as masculine as possible.”
Casey quickly ascends the ranks of the class, and Sensei reveals its true purpose in a twist that won’t shock anyone in and of itself. However, I don’t think any of you are prepared for just how dark The Art of Self-Defense gets. It feels like a spiritual cousin of HBO’s Barry, another dark comedy with plenty of ass-tat worthy lines, in that it starts off very mundane before it descends into the lowest levels of Hell. Much like Barry’s star Bill Hader, formerly the happy-go-lucky impressions guy on Saturday Night Live, I don’t think we ever realized Eisenberg could be this scary. Not just scary, but scary in a way that’s surprisingly plausible, even for a movie so ridiculous.
The Art of Self-Defense gets a lot of comparisons to Fight Club because, well, it’s a satire about toxic masculinity that’s set in a dojo. Unlike Fight Club, I don’t think dudebros are going to catastrophically misread the movie and not realize it’s making fun of them. I’ve already seen two YouTube reviewers who boycotted the Ghostbusters reboot and still rant about The Last Jedi describe their disgust for this anti-men piece of garbage. Good! Weenies like that hating this movie are the only compliment you can give The Art of Self-Defense that’s better than tattooing its best lines on your tuchus.
Grade = A+