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Riley Stearns' The Art of Self-Defense (2019) Movie Review: Do NOT Talk About Night Class

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

In 1999, David Fincher directed the book to movie Fight Club, a dark stylized comedy about a group of men who form a "support group" of sorts called Fight Club, where they pair up for no holds barred unarmed first fights with one another. Organized by the charismatic Tyler Durden, the meetings seem to be a good thing ... for a short time. Things start to spiral when the hero realizes Tyler is no good and must be stopped.

In many surface ways, The Art of Self-Defense is quite similar. Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) walks around like he is apologizing for taking up oxygen. He lives alone with his dog and works at a boring, thankless job as an accountant. One day, Jesse is attacked on the street by some unidentified motorcycle riders. He's hospitalized for his wounds and takes some time off work.

On a walk around town, he overhears a karate class and goes into observe. He feels intrigued and inspired by what he sees and decide to sign up for classes. He hopes that he can "become what he fears." Like in the movie Fight Club, for a time, Casey finds a new confidence in his new hobby. But as Casey dives deeper into the dojo and lifestyle it promotes, he learns what really goes on there.

The Art of Self-Defense, is a dark comedy -- ridiculous situations occur, but the film also addresses some very real issues that many men face. During the movie, Casey feels and is treated like an outcast. The other men around him sexualize women, make insulting comments, talk about hurting other people, and show off their bodies and masculinity. Casey knows he doesn't want me to be invisible anymore, but does being a man mean copying everything he sees around him? Sensei wants him to listen to death metal and speak German because those things are more "masculine" somehow. Speaking French isn't manly enough. Casey sucks up the messages around him and has to decide who he wants to be. 

So there are really serious issues addressed here, but is it entertaining? Well, the pacing and storyline kept me connected. I was curious about Casey and what would happen to him. I think the tropes of this movie also appealed to me. I love a good underdog movie, and Casey was an intriguing protagonist. It's rewarding to see a passive person become more confident, take pride in themselves, and stand up for what's right.