Casey Davis might be a pussy. He is the least man you’ll maybe ever meet in your life if you ever met him. When Casey goes to work, his male co-workers sit around and read manly magazines or when he answers the phone, callers usually mistake him for a woman given that Casey Davies sounds like a woman’s name. When he goes to the grocery store to buy food for his cat, he gets mugged and he hardly puts up a fight and that’s when the film begins.
The Art of Self-Defense tells the story of Casey Davies and tells the story of how someone like him learns to stand up for himself. He signs up for karate classes, but it’s not that simple, nothing really ever is: Once enrolled, he feels more confident in his personal life as he begins to take notice of some really weird shit that is happening behind the scenes of the dojo. Bizarre shit like violent night classes for select students, broken bones, and weird mind games and all of this is fascinating and keeps you intrigued.
The Art of Self-Defense is set in an alternate parallel dimension, not so different from Anywhere, USA. Casey Davies is played by Jesse Eisenberg and that’s all you probably need to envision the character that Riley Stearns envisioned for this particular film. For the first 45 minutes, we can tell that Casey is a shy, introverted, typically nervous young man as Jesse plays up his social awkwardness in such a way that’s not funny but funny at the same time. He stands apart from his coworkers, he silently judges a couple of tourists and more.
After the mugging, the shy young man walks into a gunshop and wants to purchase a handgun. On the way home, he stumbles into a karate studio, then steps in to observe. The instructor insists that his students call him “Sensei” , the instructor is the sort of man that Casey wants to become and wishes he were and decides to not purchase the handgun, then enrolls himself into the class. At first, he lies but then later admits that he wishes to become what he fears or wishes to become. This is very relevant and real as what man feels like he isn’t macho enough or manly enough, that there’s some sort of secret code of masculinity that all other men understand and all other men are in on it except you?
The Art of Self-Defensive focuses on this particular element and revolves around this core topic. It explores our masculinity and social development in a brilliant way, one that many of us males feel because who hasn’t felt the way that Casey feels throughout the course of the film.
The film is a strange, uneven, but ultimately one of the great comedies of the decade. It’s a tricky film and the role Jesse Eisenberg plays as is a tricky one as you want to laugh at him for being such a pussy but you feel bad for him because he is such a pussy and the reason why the film is tricky is because you want to laugh and the dry humor is encouraging you but you don’t know when to laugh. The gag feels obvious but the story is worth telling.
As the story keeps progressing and more weird stuff starts happening, it begins to head towards the inevitable. By the end of it all, it comes off as a brilliant film; one about a very topical topic that all men can relate too. Definitely give it a shot.