The Art of Self-Defense
A nebbish risks becoming the thing he hates.
“By now it should be clear that we underestimate Jesse Eisenberg at our own peril,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. The star of The Social Network has long excelled at playing wimps and misanthropes, and “within that type he often discovers a startling range of emotional notes, triumph and exhilaration included.” Now arrives an “unnerving” dark comedy featuring the definitive Eisenberg character: Casey Davies, a meek accountant who joins a karate dojo after he’s mugged by thugs on motorcycles. Alessandro Nivola is at once off-putting and hilarious as the dojo’s macho sensei, who has encouraged a brutal cult of personality to spread among his mostly male students, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Unfortunately, as a satire about toxic masculinity, The Art of Self-Defense is less provocative than it wants to be—“like the kid who withdrew from the introductory gender studies class before the midterm to pursue his own theories.” The plot eventually turns absurd, but I’d forgive such flaws, said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. “The film as a whole feels audacious and original,” and Eisenberg is “ideally cast” as “the embodiment of mixed motives that include courage, lust for power, and revenge.” ■