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film review

Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star in Riley Stearns's The Art of Self-Defense.Pacific Northwest Pictures

  • The Art of Self-Defense
  • Written and directed by: Riley Stearns
  • Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola and Imogen Poots
  • Classification: 14A
  • 105 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

Is there a rule that says we can’t talk about Fight Club when talking about The Art of Self-Defense? Because the latter contains elements of the former, along with some of the social commentary and revenge fantasy of Office Space and Falling Down.

Riley Stearns’s The Art of Self-Defense is an excellent black comedy and testosterone takedown starring Jesse Eisenberg as a meek, dachshund-owning accountant poisoned by toxic masculinity. After a brutal, unwarranted beating, he signs up for karate classes, where he’s taken under the wing of a serene alpha-male instructor (Alessandro Nivola).

New movies in theatres this week: The soulless Lion King, the fantastic Farewell and The Art of Self-Defense

Imogen Poots literally kicks butt as the dojo’s lone female student, but she suffers under the patriarchy. Eisenberg’s introverted protagonist asserts, “I wanna be what intimidates me,” and that’s exactly what happens.

The film’s calm brutality is effective. Plot-wise, some punches are telegraphed, while others are not. The satire is a spinning wheel kick I didn’t see coming. Black belts all around.

The Art of Self-Defense opens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on July 19.