The Art of Self-Defense

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USA | 2019 | 104 minutes | Riley Stearns

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a wimp who joins a karate studio run by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, only to realize that something deeply sinister is happening within the dojo’s walls, in this blackly comic satire on toxic masculinity.

"Perfect casting meets a parable about gurus and disciples."—The Hollywood Reporter

Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) needs to change his life. Single, friendless, and picked on at work, he's a wimp, a lamb in a world of wolves. And after getting randomly attacked on the street while out buying dog food, it's now or never, so he signs up at a local dojo run by a charismatic and mysterious sensei (Alessandro Nivola, Disobedience), ready to learn the tenants of karate. "I'm afraid of other men," he tells Sensei. "They intimidate me. I want to be what intimidates me." Be careful what you wish for, Casey. Though the classes boost his confidence and defense skills—the confrontation with his co-workers is the uproarious centerpiece of the film—Casey soon realizes that something deeply sinister is happening within the dojo's walls, and now he's in too deep. Blending big, broad laughs with go-for-the-throat thriller conventions, The Art of Self-Defense is a blackly comic, often shocking deconstruction of toxic masculinity and cultural appropriation—the dojo and its students are overwhelmingly white—and a wicked satire on those who prey on American insecurity.

Marcus Gorman

Director Biography
Austin, Texas native Riley Stearns worked as a scriptwriter for several TV series before directing his first short, Magnificat, in 2001 and his first feature, Faults, in 2014.

Sponsored by Ingeniux, The Walls Vineyards 

  • Director: Riley Stearns
  • Principal Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Alessandro Nivola, Steve Terada, David Zellner
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2019
  • Running Time: 104 minutes
  • Producer: Andrew Kortschak, Cody Ryder, Stephanie Whonsetler and Walter Kortschak
  • Screenplay: Riley Stearns
  • Cinematographers: Michael Ragen
  • Editors: Sarah Beth Shapiro
  • Music: Heather Mcintosh
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Filmography: Faults (2014)
  • Language: English
  • Format: DCP
  • US Distributor: Bleecker Street
  • International Sales: Bleecker Street