The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

MPAA Rating: R // Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Release Year: 2019 // Director: Riley Stearns
Genre: Comedy, Drama

In karate, every movement is controlled and intentional; nothing is wasted, haphazard, or superfluous. And so it is with The Art of Self-Defense, where every scene has a purpose and a payoff.

Jesse Eisenberg, perhaps best known—even ten years later—for his smart, fast-talking portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, hits it out of the park as socially awkward accountant Casey. After a late-night mugging lands him in the hospital, he decides to take some time off for himself and enrolls in karate classes at a local dojo.

As the weeks progress, Casey gains confidence but loses none of his awkwardness, merely transferring it to his new hobby. He orders a yellow leather belt so he can wear his colored belt at all times, not just while at lessons, and struggles to understand a world where the only female student—easily the most accomplished student—is consistently passed over for a black belt.

The plot thickens, as they say, and all is not as it appears to be. Sensei has ulterior motives behind his mentorship of Casey. Casey uses his new-found martial arts skills on his boss at work and finds himself out of a job, giving him even more time to spend at the dojo.

With each building scene, director Riley Stearns steers clear of any martial arts cliches and instead crafts a dark, punchy satire about hypermasculinity.

Not as family-friendly as The Karate Kid, but well worth a watch.

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